Grand chief of flood-hit Kashechewan says he's praying for other Canadians caught by flooding
Community leaders from Kashechewan say they want an action plan for moving their community to higher ground
The grand chief of the council overseeing flood-ravaged Kashechewan First Nation says he feels the pain of other Canadians caught up in seasonal flooding and is praying for them as he continues the fight for action to help his own people.
"I would just like to tell the people in this region that are being flooded, we feel what you're feeling, we've been through that for many, many years," Grand Chief Jonathon Solomon, of the Mushkegowuk Council, said in Ottawa Tuesday.
"And I pray to God that everything will be OK with you and your families."
Solomon was in Ottawa with other leaders from his community to press the federal government to take steps to help his community relocate to higher ground farther along the Albany River.
Kashechewan is a Cree community on the James Bay coast. Every spring, its 2,500 residents evacuate temporarily to escape the flooding Albany River, staying in Timmins, Kapuskasing, Cochrane and other towns in southern Ontario until the flooding subsides.
The evacuations, funded by the federal government, cost between $18 million and $22 million every year, according to Solomon.
In 1957, the federal government relocated the community from islands off the southern shore of the Albany River to the northern shore — a known floodplain.
On March 31, 2017, Kashechewan First Nation, the federal government and the Ontario government signed an agreement committing them to the development of an action plan to support the short-, medium- and long-term sustainability of the community through housing, schools and infrastructure.
Indigenous leaders say there has been little to no movement on the ground, however, and they want to see a timetable for a move to Site 5, farther along the river.
"What is missing from that agreement is a plan, an implementation plan that would outline how the work is going to get carried out, what the steps will be to identify dedicated resources, along with timelines to hold the parties accountable to that plan," said Derek Fox, deputy grand chief of Nishnawbe Aski Nation, which represents 49 First Nations from northern Ontario.
Solomon said that while he welcomed the agreement between the community and the federal and provincial governments, documents signed at news conferences don't always guarantee concrete action in the near term.
"My people, my friends, my families want to be able to see light at the end of the tunnel in regards to progress being made to address the current situation," he said.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the community's cycle of seasonal relocation is "unacceptable" but any actions to relocate have to be taken in concert with the people of Kashechewan.
"The community identified the location they believe it would be best to relocate to. Work is underway right now to build a new road, to secure the land, design the new community, in partnership every step of the way with the people of Kashechewan," Trudeau told the House of Commons Tuesday.
Indigenous Services Minister Seamus O'Regan told reporters Tuesday that he could not offer a specific timeline for the move, but said the government is working with Kashechewan to make it happen as soon as possible.
He said the federal government is working to secure the land from the Ontario provincial government. Once that task is complete, a road into the site will have to be built and a survey of the land completed. That will be followed by a consultation period, during which plans for the new town will be drawn up.
In the meantime, O'Regan said, $30 million has been allocated to secure dikes in the area and another $4 million has been set aside to begin the process of securing the land and building a road.