Thunder Bay

Matawa partnering with business sector to solve First Nations infrastructure deficit

The chief of Eabametoong First Nation says he hopes a new partnership between Matawa First Nations and a series of mostly private sector partners will finally help address the infrastructure deficit in Matawa communities. The Matawa chiefs announced last week that they are in discussions with several large enterprises, including Ontario Power Generation,  EPCOR Canada and PCL Construction, as well as the strategic communications firm Enterprise Canada, about addressing infrastructure needs in the communities in a systematic and efficient way using private financing.

The chiefs are working with EPCOR, PCL Construction, Ontario Power Generation and others

Harvey Yesno is chief of Eabametoong First Nation in Ontario. He said he needs to try a different approach to improving infrastructure because his community members are criticizing him for not doing enough to address their housing shortage. (Dave McSporran/Bottled Media)

The chief of Eabametoong First Nation says he hopes a new partnership between Matawa First Nations and a series of mostly private sector partners will finally help address the infrastructure deficit in Matawa communities.

The Matawa chiefs announced last week that they are in discussions with several large enterprises, including Ontario Power Generation,  EPCOR Canada and PCL Construction, as well as the strategic communications firm Enterprise Canada, about addressing infrastructure needs in the communities in a systematic and efficient way using private financing.

Matawa and the partner companies are discussing the creation of a corporation to oversee the work, according to a news release issued by Matawa First Nations Management. 

The communities had to try a new approach because the current system isn't meeting community needs, Eabametoong chief Harvey Yesno told CBC

"It's not that easy just to say, "'Well if [only] the government came with more funding for housing,'" Yesno said. "You can't build the houses without the water and sewer and enough electricity... So these need to be phased, and when that's done, there's just such a big backlog of community infrastructure. We're never catching up."

OPG to look at power generation options

Yesno once had to bank capital for several years in order to help pay for a new water and sewer project, he said, by way of example. No houses got built for two or three years as a result.

Complicating matters is the fact that government funding allotments for infrastructure are typically raised relative to the overall growth of the Canadian economy, Yesno said.  However, population growth in First Nations is outpacing economic growth. 

What's more, building housing, sewer systems and water treatment facilities in remote communities is expensive, he added. 

First Nations hope the new partnership will help them stretch their government dollars considerably farther than they can now, he said.

"A lot of these partners that have come in have actually put in—I don't know if you'd call it sweat equity, but they've put a lot of calculation into this," Yesno said.   

"They've contributed quite a bit already.  They've done the analysis themselves.  We didn't do that because we couldn't afford to do that."

One of Matawa's new partners, Ontario Power Generation, will help communities harness opportunities to meet their power needs, Yesno said.

"We're up north there. There's no transmission line coming close by," he said. "Even the Watay project is primarily a western project. So we're looking at what can we do to harness some of the... run-of-the-river kind of power generation."

The next step for the Matawa communities is to decide which projects to focus on first, Yesno said. He himself will be double checking and prioritizing his own community's needs. 

He has no choice but to push ahead with the new strategy, he said. 

"I could stay with the existing formula, but I'm getting bashed by my community for not doing enough for housing," he said, "So I'm probably one of the ones that would really like to see this work because I don't see any other alternative."