Premier Wynne visits Fort Severn
Premier Kathleen Wynne became the first premier in recent history to visit Fort Severn, the northern most reserve in Ontario. Premier Wynne, accompanied by Minister of Aboriginal Affairs, David Zimmer, toured the community Sept. 2 and met with Chief Joe Crowe, council and Elders to talk about issues important to the people of Fort Severn.
After introductions and listening to Elders speak, the chief, council and visitors sat down with cups of traditional Labrador tea and began to talk.
One of the first topics the council raised was about income security program for trappers.
Wynne was asked why Ontario does not have an income security program for trappers like the one in Quebec. There is currently the Canada/Ontario Resource Development Agreement, but funding has been cut in recent years, and this year funding did not cover all of the trappers approved by council, which prevents access to the fur income industry by current trappers and youth.
Wynne said she would look into the Quebec model.
Council also asked about the chance to be hooked into the hydro grid under development along the Manitoba border, if it is to be extended to southern Ontario. Currently, the community relies on diesel generators for their electricity. Although concern was expressed about potential damage to the environment by this extension through their lands.
Wynne assured them that “environmental protection needs to be in place and impact on First Nations worked out at the beginning.”
For Councilor Betty Bluecoat the high cost of living was one of the most important issues on the agenda. She presented an example of one case of water costing $79 at the Northern Store, the only store in the community, while fuel costs $1.879 per litre tax-free.
Access to the community is only available through flight, ice road or water. The band receives transportation subsidies for the winter road, although it is not enough, according to council. The barge, which arrives once per year carrying supplies and equipment to this isolated community, is not subsidized. This year it will cost $168,800 for the trip from Moosonee to Fort Severn.
Questions were also raised about Polar Bear Provincial Park at the table.
“It seems to me the most important thing we can do is work together to make sure the land is protected (to help) each other make decisions in the best interest of First Nation communities and the land,” said Wynne.
The most definite response to a concern came when council asked for help to fund and build a playground for the children of the community. Wynne agreed to help, saying she would like to see community involvement in the design process while Zimmer said he could make that happen.
During her tour Wynne walked through the portable classrooms used as a public school for almost a decade. The previous school had to be destroyed because of severe mold contamination. When asked for help to get construction of a new school moving, Wynne told the community that, while this is a federal responsibility, she would advocate on their behalf.
“Her visit was too rushed,” said Bluecoat. She would like to see Wynne come again so they can show her more of the community and extend discussions. to include health care and home support programs for the Elders.
Email to a Friend
add to del.icio.us