Sudbury

Kashechewan ready to relocate without federal help, but gov't says plans in the works

The federal government says it is still committed to moving the flood-prone James Bay community of Kashechewan to a new location. But the First Nation is getting so frustrated with delays, it is looking to make the move on its own.

Federal government says it's plan is for Kashechewan to be in a new location in 8-10 years

People in Kashechewan are so frustrated waiting for the federal government to relocate the flood-prone community, they are looking at making the move on their own. (Erik White/CBC )

After years of waiting for the federal government to relocate the community to higher and drier ground, Kashechewan is starting to look at making the move on its own.

Chief Leo Friday says frustration boiled over at a recent public meeting in the James Bay First Nation, where the focus was on a federal promise to build a road to the proposed future location for the community, 30 kilometres to the south.

But there was no mention of the project in the recent federal budget. 

"I'm pretty sure we're going to start building our own road to a new site. We're not going to wait any longer," says Friday. "It's the will of the community that they want to have a sustainable community."

He says plans are still in the early stages, but he says some of the 2,500 people in Kashechewan are prepared to build a new home at the new location, known as Site 5, even if there isn't electricity, water or sewer.

Friday says there are 200 people on the waiting list for housing in Kashechewan and he often sees people sleeping on the floors of a relative's house. 

"Which really saddens me when I see that. And the government is not doing anything to upgrade the houses or build more houses or at least temporary housing for the community," says Friday.

Kashechewan Chief Leo Friday says he thinks the First Nation could begin construction of a road to the future site of the community as early as June. (Radio-Canada/Joël Ashak)

Anne Scotton, the regional director general for Indigenous Services Canada, says plans to move Kashechewan are on track. 

"We've worked very hard with the community to assure ourselves that we're doing what they want to do," she says.

"There's no reason to believe we're not moving forward on this project. We are."

Scotton says despite not being mentioned in the budget, the government hopes to put the road project out for tender at some time this year.

She says there are several other studies underway to determine the best way to move Kashechewan to the new location within 8-10 years.

The federal and provincial governments signed a framework agreement to relocate Kashechewan in 2017 and Indigenous Services Canada says progress is being made. (Olivia Stefanovich/CBC)

"The planning for moving a community of this size is obviously a very complex matter," says Scotton. 

"The chief is under extraordinary pressure to demonstrate some progress on this and there's probably frustration as there usually is on the part of somebody who's been patient for some time."

She says in the shorter term, the government is looking at repairs to the dike that is meant to protect Kashechewan from the floodwaters of the Albany River and the annual spring evacuation of the community at a cost of $15-20 million.

Construction is also underway on a $15 million temporary elementary school to replace the building that was condemned in the fall, forcing all school children to share classrooms in the high school.

About the Author

Erik White

journalist

Erik White is a CBC journalist based in Sudbury. He covers a wide range of stories about northern Ontario. Connect with him on Twitter @erikjwhite. Send story ideas to erik.white@cbc.ca