Thunder Bay

Warm weather creating 'crisis' for First Nations that rely on ice roads

Warm weather is playing havoc with the winter road network that connects remote First Nations in northwestern Ontario to the provincial highway system, according to the Nishnawbe Aski Nation.

Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug is flying in fuel and pondering how to ship materials for a new school

Only one community's winter road was fully operational as of Jan. 31, according to the Nishnawbe Aski Nation's winter road report.  (Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

Warm weather is playing havoc with the winter road network that connects remote First Nations in northwestern Ontario to the provincial highway system, according to the Nishnawbe Aski Nation.

Only one community's winter road was fully operational as of Jan. 31, according to NAN's winter road report.  Fifteen communities have roads that are open to light traffic and three to partial traffic. Six communities' roads are still under construction, and six communities have roads that are closed due to weather. 

"It is a developing crisis as many of our communities are running out of fuel and cannot haul anything in," NAN Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler wrote on Twitter.  "We need immediate government intervention."

Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug is one of the communities whose road is closed due to warm weather, according to the report. 

 "It's put us back at least two weeks." Chief Donny Morris told CBC.  "We would be hauling our groceries, our fuel ... our housing materials, our community projects, not just Big Trout but other surrounding communities too."

Without the road in place, the community has had to fly in gasoline and fuel oil, he said. Even travelling to youth hockey tournaments has become more costly.

"The price goes up [when] we have these Lil' Bands Tournaments in Dryden where families would drive out, at least from my community," he said. "We had to fly out our youth to go play over there."

Typically at this time of the year, trucks bring large quantities of non perishable goods into the community, and residents stock up for the year, he added.  This year, it has yet to happen.

Moreover, the community is waiting to start construction on a new school building, and materials are also due to arrive by truck.

"They told us there might be about 70 loads," Morris said of the builders. "If we have a cold spell, we encouraged them to consider a convoy because we don't know how long if it gets cold it will sustain the road conditions 

If the ice road fails to harden before the spring, Morris said the community may have to scale back purchases and ask the federal government for financial support to fly more supplies in by plane.

"[With] the school project that we're doing, are we going to be able to access a Hercules to fly in steel beams?" he asked. "Obviously the government has access to that, so why can't we construct it as a training project? ... That's what I'm thinking of doing if our road doesn't pick up this week – the weather I mean.   

The elders in the community have never before seen the warm winters the community has seen the last two years, Morris said. 

"This is where western idealism counters [how] us as Aboriginal people view things," he said, "where we feel things are changing, but on the western side of it, progress, money and the environment is left out completely."

"We feel that there is something happen," he continued."We feel it."

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