Kashechewan First Nation goes to Ontario legislature for action on annual flooding
'If Kashechewan were non-Native, we'd have action already,' says Nishnawbe Aski Nation deputy grand chief
Residents of Kashechewan First Nation and supporters are rallying Monday at Queen's Park to demand the provincial government help the northern Ontario community that faces annual spring evacuations due to flooding.
"If Kashechewan were non-Native, we'd have action already," said Derek Fox, deputy grand chief of Nishnawbe Aski Nation, which represents 49 First Nations from northern Ontario.
"You see in Ottawa the response is immediate. They pretty much call in the army to come save everyone."
For 17 years, residents of Kashechewan have been forced to leave their homes every spring as the Albany River overflows its banks into the community.
At a news conference at Queen's Park on Monday afternoon, First Nations leaders and members of Kashechewan First Nation demanded action from the federal and provincial government on relocating the community.
With record flooding happening in parts of southern Ontario and Quebec, Fox said governments have responded quickly in areas like Ottawa and Bracebridge, Ont.
Kashechewan First Nation says it has been waiting for help for years.
"First Nations and Kashechewan are Ontarians and Canadians, just as much as they are in Ottawa," said Fox.
"The government must react, must help the people of Kashechewan."
'Ready to move'
In 1957, the federal government relocated the community from islands off the southern shore of the Albany River to the northern shore that was a known floodplain.
On March 31, 2017, Kashechewan First Nation, the federal government and the Ontario provincial government signed an agreement that committed to developing an action plan to support short, medium and long term sustainability of the community including housing, schools and infrastructure.
RoseAnne Archibald, the Assembly of First Nations Regional Chief for Ontario, called for both levels of government to work faster so the community can be relocated.
"We can only imagine, those of us who don't have to go through this, what it's like to leave our homes every single year to go to a hotel in a strange city and to wait out and hope that when we return, our homes are still there."
Kashechewan is currently fully evacuated and anticipating more flood waters than last year from the higher snow levels inland.
First Nations leaders are calling on the provincial government to push for relocation because the education and health-care requirements of the community are not being met due to being in a flood zone, according to Kashechewan Chief Leo Friday.
He said if the dike in the community overflows, it will be a disaster.
"We're ready to move our people."
Loss of culture
Spring is an important time for cultural activities, he said. But with members being relocated every spring to cities like Timmins, Kapuskasing and Cochrane, and other places in southern Ontario, they are unable to do them.
"We've been displaced and dislocated every spring, and we lost a lot of our cultural traditions and teaching," said Friday.
Without spiritual teaching on the land for the community, particularly the youth, Friday said they have begun losing youth to suicide.
Arthur Koosees, 13, has faced evacuation every spring his entire life.
"That's all I've known," he said.
He said he's getting tired of it because he and other children in the community are losing out on education when they have to leave the community.
He said it's unfair that they can't have schooling and cultural activities like others because of the flooding on the reserve.
"Children need to learn the way that our elders learn because that's all we've known for the past generations," said Koosees.
"That's who we are, but we can't learn because of the floods."
Kashechewan raised in question period
About 250 members of Kaschechewan First Nation were present for question period Monday at Queen's Park where New Democratic Party Leader Andrea Horwath, Sol Mamakwa, NDP MPP for Kiiwetinoong and Guy Bourgouin, NDP MPP for Mushkegowuk-James Bay, pressured the Ontario government to respond to Kashechewan's concerns.
Minister of Energy, Northern Development and Mines and Indigenous Affairs Greg Rickford responded that Ontario stands ready to move forward.
"There is a plan in place for Kashechewan so they don't have to be displaced year in and year out as a result of the flooding and the location that community currently is in," said Rickford.
No details on that plan were revealed.