Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler recently highlighted some of the priorities that Nishnawbe Aski Nation currently sees for the 2020s during an early January interview.
“Just generally in terms of priorities for our communities in the decade we are now in will continue to be issues around infrastructure, resource development and the environment — the changes we are seeing on the land with the changing environment and climate,” Fiddler says. “I think those will be the big issues we will have to address this coming decade.”
Fiddler says the changing climate is one of the reasons why Marten Falls and other NAN communities are looking at building all-season roads into their communities. Marten Falls recently held a Public Information Centre session in December to provide an update on its proposed all-season Community Access Road.
“I think last year was a bit of an anomaly,” Fiddler says. “It was cold last winter but generally over the last 15-20 years it’s been getting warmer and warmer. The winter roads are becoming more and more unreliable and unsafe, so it’s not just Marten Falls. In the northwest part of NAN for example, with the Windigo communities and my community of Muskrat Dam, they are looking at along with the construction of the Wataynikaneyap Power project that an all-season road has to be built as well to support the project.”
Fiddler says a motion was passed at the 2019 Chiefs Fall Assembly directing NAN to work with the communities on establishing back-up power sources for when the Wataynikaneyap Power project is connected.
“Even though this project will be going in, what we saw in Pikangikum this past year with the forest fires there was some interruption there with the power,” Fiddler says. “So the communities will still need their own back-up power source right in the community once the Wataynikaneyap Power line goes in.”
Fiddler says NAN is looking at how to build on the Choose Life initiative to ensure the communities have access to supports.
“Especially the youth in our communities, that they have access to supports 24/7,” Fiddler says. “So that is something that we will be working on this coming year is building on the work that the Choose Life initiative has done to make these services more like a 24-hour wrap-around support for all our kids in our communities.”
Fiddler says the chiefs also gave NAN a mandate to look at building a hospital or hospitals in the north closer to the communities or possibly in one or two of the bigger communities.
“So that work is ongoing,” Fiddler says, “My hope is that we will be able to do this work quickly knowing that there is such a need in our communities and that the governments, both Ontario and Canada, will be supportive of this and support the effort to build these hospitals right in our communities.”
Fiddler says NAN has been seeing a trend where more communities are taking on or putting in place their own systems, such as for child welfare, education and health.
“Communities (are) more and more asserting their authority, asserting their jurisdiction on their land and on their children, which is the way it should be,” Fiddler says. “I think our role at Nishnawbe Aski Nation is to support those efforts by our communities.”
Fiddler notes the importance of the communities asserting their jurisdiction on the land and resources — so when resource development happens it will be done according to the terms set by the community.
“It should be on that basis, that the communities have the ultimate authority to dictate what happens in their lands and their territory,” Fiddler says.
Fiddler says another priority is the building of capacity in human resources at the community level, including with health care workers, teachers and police officers.
“We need to make sure we have training available to our community citizens in all these areas so they can participate in the growth of their communities,” Fiddler says.
Fiddler stresses that NAN can “do a lot in the next 10 years.”
“We always look at our children in our communities, the quality of life, to make sure they have access to a really good health care system, that they have access to a good quality education system so that they can pursue whatever dream they have,” Fiddler says. “That’s what I look at — improving quality of life for our children in all these areas.”