Northern Ontario First Nation looks to reclaim unused property owned by outside interests

The chief of a northern Ontario First Nation says he wants a company that still owns land in the community to clean it up.

Northern Store in Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug closed 22 years ago then building burned down

Donny Morris is the chief of Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug. (Youtube)

The chief of a northern Ontario First Nation says he wants a company that still owns land in the community to clean it up.

That call comes as the leadership of Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug — also known as Big Trout Lake — says it wants to take control of abandoned property in the First Nation owned by outside interests.  At issue, according to Chief Donny Morris, is the site of the former Northern Store. Its owner, the North West Company, was evicted from the community in 1996; the store burned down after that.

Morris said little has been done to the site since.

In a video posted to Youtube at the end of October, Morris said he's "disappointed" in the lack of progress on a cleanup and called on the company to be a good corporate citizen.

"It's beginning to be an eyesore for us," he told CBC News. "We need ... grounds to put up our buildings and they control a large track of land."

"This is what we've been pushing them [on] over the years," Morris continued. "Start cleaning up your property so we can do the process [of] ... transferring the land back."

A company official told CBC News they were contacted early in 2018 to look at the property and to discuss a cleanup. Michael Beaulieu, the vice president of operations for the North West Company's central division, said an environmental assessment has been completed; a report of which Beaulieu said he expects to receive soon.

Chief Donny Morris says he wants to see more movement on a cleanup of the former site of the Northern Store in KI. (Youtube)

Morris said the property is in a desirable location on "good high ground." He added that the two sides have been speaking but "a year has passed and ... I don't think they're really taking it serious to clean it up."

Not true, Beaulieu said. He did add that he understands the community's desire to see work done quickly.

"From North West's perspective, I'm happy that we're now at least speaking with each other and in terms of their chief and council and our organization that we've taken steps to get the environmental assessment completed," he said.

"I look forward to coming to some type of a resolution on our property that remains in Big Trout."

Other properties not under community control

The former store location is not the only piece of real estate in KI owned by other companies or organizations but currently sits unused, Morris said.

"This island we live on is checkered ... with outside interests, companies that control Big Trout," he said. "Prior to the treaty signing, they had already settled here."

"So that's why we're making a push this year to reclaim these lands that were taken for businesses in those days and they're just sitting there idle." Morris said he expects many of those repatriation efforts will have to be done through the federal government.

As far as the North West Company property is concerned, Beaulieu said it's "completely within the realm of possibility," that a transfer back to the community is done.

"Without making any real commitment at this point, it's definitely one of the topics that are on the table and a very possible outcome of where we're headed."