Indian and Northern Affairs Canada is providing $3.8 million in fuel subsidies after Nishnawbe Aski Nation declared an emergency due to the early winter road closure.
“Our remote communities are facing extreme shortfalls of fuel to run schools and homes as well as a shortage in housing supplies for building and renovating,” said NAN Grand Chief Stan Beardy April 1 during the NAN Winter Chiefs Assembly.
“In some cases, these communities will now be forced to pay upwards of $3,000 dollars for one mid-sized aircraft to transport essential goods to their communities. Winter-road communities are not in a financial position to afford that kind of expense.”
Kenora MP Greg Rickford announced the $3.8 million in fuel delivery subsidies for Ontario’s remote First Nations April 8 on behalf of INAC Minister Chuck Strahl.
“We identified a critical priority list of communities who are facing fuel shortages as well as pressing and substantial needs for the increased fuel costs for the transportation of materials to start or continue projects in the remote First Nation communities in the Kenora Riding,” Rickford said. “We presented that list to Minister Strahl’s office and they were very co-operative and supportive in developing an appropriate strategy to address this situation.”
Beardy said the majority of NAN’s 29 remote communities were not able to use the winter roads to haul in their basic essentials such as heating fuel, diesel fuel and building materials.
“In some cases I have been told there are trucks sitting in the bush with their goods that they were trying to deliver to the communities,” Beardy said, explaining the chiefs are calling for support to bring their essential supplies. “They said we need to declare a state of emergency because it is an emergency – without diesel fuel there will be no power, and if there is no power in the community there will be no health services or stores or schools. Everything will be shut down.”
Beardy said NAN is looking for support, possibly including a larger aircraft to haul in essential supplies.
“Emergency services should kick in, where the governments will mobilize whatever support there is to address the state of emergency,” Beardy said. “We’re hoping the government will give support, maybe with a larger aircraft, to haul the essential materials. Some of these are very time sensitive because of the funding arrangements associated with those projects.”
Beardy said NAN expects the same rights and services provided to other communities across Canada.
“Our children are entitled to education so we have to make sure our schools are open,” Beardy said. “Our people are entitled to proper health care so we have to make sure the clinics are open. Our people have a right to a meal so we have to make sure the stores are open. It is essential that support is given – we are talking about very basic essential things here to ensure our communities are functioning.”
Strahl said the federal government recognizes that the winter road system is dependent on weather.
“The season this year was unexpectedly short and for communities that depend on winter road access, this means increased costs to bring in essential supplies,” Strahl said in a statement. “This funding will ensure that essential fuel will continue to reach communities without delay.”
Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug Chief Donny Morris had earlier approached INAC for emergency assistance to bring in essential supplies to make it through the coming year.
“I wrote a letter to INAC saying I need emergency assistance to haul in my gas, my fuel, my housing supplies,” Morris said during the NAN Winter Chiefs Assembly. “The cost of freight is going to cripple my budget.”
Morris said the winter road rates are good but if his community has to fly in their supplies they won’t be able to afford as many supplies as they usually bring in over the winter roads.
“If the Manitoba chiefs can be considered an emergency, why can’t Ontario INAC governments recognize that too – I need assistance,” Morris said. “When you look at gas and housing supplies, they are a commodity that is needed and INAC doesn’t recognize those.”
Morris said the Manitoba chiefs are looking for a meeting with the Ministry of National Defence to use their Hercules to fly in supplies.
“Here our distances are far and our needs are the same as their needs,” Morris said. “So that is the assistance I need from INAC, is to subsidize our fuel, gas and housing.”
KI has received only a fraction of the 1.1 million litres of fuel needed to operate its power generating plant over the coming year and none of the building supplies required to build the three homes planned for construction this summer.
“The community and I want to thank Greg a lot for all his work on this and the assistance he has provided to us,” Morris said after INAC decided to provide additional funding for fuel supplies. “We were planning cut backs to try and cover this ourselves but now we can proceed as planned for our housing projects and other construction.”
An INAC spokeswoman had said March 26 that they were planning to provide $2.5 million to help offset increased transportation costs due to the early closing of the winter roads.
“For 2009-2010 we are providing $2.5 million for transporting essential fuel to those communities who have been affected by load reductions and/or early closure,” said Susan Bertrand, manager of communications north with Indian and Northern Affairs Canada, in a March 26 e-mail statement. “INAC will also pay for increased costs associated with transporting materials into a community for construction projects (schools or other capital projects) being funded by the Department in order to allow these projects to move forward.”
North Spirit Lake Chief Rita Thompson expressed relief over the increased funding because increased fuel costs could have put the construction of their new school in a potential delay.
“On behalf of the community and myself, I want to thank Mr. Rickford for his assistance in getting our projects completed, especially our new school,” Thompson said. “We look forward to working with him and his office in the future on other issues for our community.”
Attawapiskat Deputy Chief Theresa Spence said her community had to cancel their building material orders due to the early closing of the winter roads.
“We will have to get our (supplies) through the barge or the plane,” Spence said. “It’s costing us a lot of money.”
Spence said the barge will not arrive until June, and it will cost more than using the winter road.
“It is very unfortunate,” Spence said. “There will be delays on housing projects due to that.”
Spence said if the community brings in supplies by aircraft, it would cost even more than the barge.
“When you live in a remote area, you have to pay extra costs for transportation,” Spence said. “Every time there is funding available for housing or other projects, transportation is always very expensive.”
Spence said her community managed to bring in some heating fuel supplies for the school, hospital and store over the winter roads, but because they have hydro power over the Five Nations Energy Inc. transmission line, they don’t need to bring in huge amounts of diesel fuel and only have a diesel powered generating plant for backup.
“A lot of people still have wood stoves and we’re looking mostly at electrical heat now because there was too much fuel spilled in the past,” Spence said.
“For me, I am still using a fuel furnace.”
I feel a greater sense of hope and optimism these days for the future when I talk to many of our young First Nation people. There are still many hurdles and...