Removal of cabins from University of Saskatchewan's northern campus sparks controversy
Cabins were transported to nearby First Nation to alleviate housing crisis
The University of Saskatchewan has donated 22 cabins from its Kenderdine campus to a nearby First Nation, but not everyone is happy about it.
Montreal Lake Chief Frank Roberts praised the move, saying the cabins will help the band alleviate its housing crisis, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic.
"We're grateful for the donation. We're really excited about the cabins," Roberts said.
Roberts said the cabins were donated, but it's costing the band $100,000 to transport the buildings and then connect them to services on the reserve.
However, a group called Keep Kenderdine opposed the move.
The Kenderdine campus was shut down by the U of S in 2012 after more than 80 years of serving as an educational retreat for artists, writers and scientists. Keep Kenderdine has been advocating for a revival, or at least another use, ever since.
The U of S has hosted meetings with the group to discuss future uses, but the cabin giveaway was done without the group's knowledge, said Keep Kenderdine member Joanne Bolen.
"It's awful. Oh, there's a lot of angry people. For myself, I'm very upset," Bolen said.
In a statement, the U of S said it values everyone's input, but the consultation process was put on hold when COVID-19 arrived. It said they'll keep discussing ideas for a new vision.
The statement noted none of the historic buildings at Kenerdine have been moved, although the dining hall will soon be relocated because of its deteriorating condition.
Bolen said the pandemic was used as an excuse to make decisions without informing her group.
She said the equipment used during the recent move damaged the trees and soil.
"They went in on a very ecologically sensitive site at the worst time possible with heavy equipment and damaged that whole forest," Bolen said.
Roberts said some trees and brush had to be removed to get at the cabins. He said they tried to disturb the environment as little as possible. He said a few trees are not more important than providing homes to impoverished First Nations families.
Roberts noted the Kenderdine campus also sits on Montreal Lake's original traditional territory.