Sara Mainville

Chief Sara Mainville says erosion caused by record high water levels has permanently changed the shoreline in Couchiching. (Supplied)

The new chief of Couchiching First Nation told the CBC her community is at a crossroads.

In an interview Friday morning, Sara Mainville said she hopes to build a more productive community, with more opportunities for members — and she's optimistic about negotiations to settle land claims.

Also on her to-do list is the goal to build better relationships with nearby communities, including neighbouring Fort Frances.

"I'm hearing from the town of Fort Frances that they want to work with us, so I think that's a good opportunity,” she said.

Mainville is replacing long-time Couchiching chief Chuck McPherson, who passed away earlier this year.

The First Nation is at an important juncture of its development, she said, adding she felt "maybe I was the best person to take us through that crossroads."

One big issue Mainville sees is the large number of people from the community who have to go away for jobs, school and housing.

"If we don't reinvest in our community,” the community will continue to dwindle, she said.

“Right now, we are sitting at 25 or 26 per cent f our population living in Couchiching. That is too small of a population."

Looking for settlements

Mainville said she’s going to look for “opportunity that's in our district” and bring “some of that home so that they can actually live and work nearby.”

She also noted “more of our members moving to Fort Frances and getting mortgages and trying to make a better life ... I welcome that and very much celebrate the successes that our community members are having by taking that route."

The new chief’s background in law will help her as she tackles the community’s land claim issues, including one that involves the Highway 11 corridor through Couchiching.

"While we have settled our differences with Ontario we also have to look at a settlement with the federal government,” she said. “We're in good, high-level discussions, as well as [with] the railway [that goes through the community]. I'm optimistic."

Informing the community about the process is important, Mainville said.

"We have to take a couple steps back and better inform our community about these claims and make sure they understand exactly what we are negotiating. I am very committed to doing that."