Kashechewan rejects Timmins move: survey

The chief of the embattled Kashechewan First Nation says his community wants to relocate within its traditional land, despite Ottawa's objections over how much the move could cost.

The chief of the embattled Kashechewan First Nation says his community's desireto relocate upstreamwithin its traditional land has beenmet with resistance fromOttawa.

A survey of the community's 1,700residentsreleased Friday found most people want to build a new reserve about 30 kilometres up the flood-prone Albany River from its current location near James Bay.

Chief Johnathon Solomon discussed the results with Indian Affairs Minister Jim Prentice Thursday and said the minister balked at the move's estimated $500-million cost, which is based on internal department documents.

Solomonsaid the former Liberal government promised the move withinthe community'straditional hunting grounds in an agreement to rebuild the remote fly-in reserve in October 2005.

The survey's findings clash with conclusions reached ina previousreport prepared for Indian Affairsby former Ontario cabinet minister Alan Pope, which recommended moving the reserve to the outskirts of Timmins, about 480 kilometres south ofits current location.

Prentice had repeatedly said the people could choose whether to relocate. Internal ministry documentsestimatedthe Timmins move would cost $200 million.

"I think he [Prentice] was more disappointed with the outcome of the report, I guess, assuming that the Pope report would be backed up by this report,"Solomon said.

Community in crisis

Prentice was not immediately available for comment, butIndian Affairs spokesperson Bill Rodgerstold CBC Newsthe cost projections have forced the ministry to re-evaluate all options for the community.

"All the options at some point had to be costed," Rodgers said. "We weren't in any way attempting to eliminate options … We had a duty after the Pope report came out to start looking at what are the costs of doing this."

But Solomon said he has questions aboutthefigure and wonders why Ottawa even went along with the community consultations and reports if it had already eliminated options based on cost.

The federal governmentfirstmoved the people of Kashechewan against their will to the low-lying land in 1957. The reserve has been evacuated three times since 2004, and Ottawa has spent millions of dollars to remove residents twice for severe spring flooding and once amid a tainted-water crisis.

The latest crises hit the community as it grappled with squalid housing, domestic violence, addiction and a recent spate of 21 reported youth suicide attempts, including by a nine-year-old.

Prentice himself has called conditions on the reserve "deplorable."

Indian Affairs said it would double-check its numbers over the next few weeks before another meeting with community representatives.

With files from the Canadian Press