Discussions about all-weather roads and winter roads are ramping up across Nishnawbe Aski Nation territory.
“We’ve had tons of resolutions regarding winter roads over the years, 20-30 years,” said NAN Deputy Grand Chief Les Louttit during the Sept. 27 Winter Roads and All-Weather Roads First Nations Forum in Thunder Bay.
“But recently, in the past three or four years, First Nations are now starting to talk all-weather roads because of the difficulties they are encountering due to shorter seasons caused by climate change, warmer weather and thinner ice.”
Louttit said the changing conditions are putting winter-road workers’ lives at risk as well as increasing costs for construction. “We had two deaths last year in northwestern Ontario,” Louttit said. “It’s hard to predict the weather, but in order for the winter roads to be viable, we need cold weather and thicker ice.”
Louttit said NAN is looking at developing a NAN-wide strategy on the transportation issue, noting the changing weather conditions and upcoming resource industry transportation requirements need to be considered.
“If the Ring of Fire (mineral development area) is going to be developed, First Nations need to be involved, not only the Matawa First Nations, but all NAN First Nations need to be involved in the regional infrastructure, whether it’s roads, energy, hydro or whatever, that’s being planned to accommodate not only the resource sector but the First Nations access to all-weather roads and the highway system,” Louttit said.
Louttit said any resource roads built in NAN traditional territory need to accommodate access for neighbouring First Nation communities.
“It’s only in the interest of all the parties, the industry, the governments and the First Nations, to accommodate everybody,” Louttit said. “If Ontario puts money into the construction of the road, then it has to be accessible to the public and the First Nations.”
Shibogama’s Margaret Kenequanash said the Shibogama communities are working to realign their winter roads away from lakes and onto land, adding that Wunnumin Lake is currently planning to realign their winter road over higher esker ridges to avoid lakes.
“I haven’t heard about an all-season road but there may have been discussions,” said the Shibogama executive director. “Right now we transport a lot of fuel, housing materials and a lot of bulk (supplies) to the communities. The concern is that when we have a short winter road season, then that affects the overall community in terms of being able to deliver all of their equipment on the winter roads to the communities, so it costs higher.”
Kenequanash said a social-impact study would have to be conducted before any all-season roads were constructed into the Shibogama communities.
“Once an all-season road (was built), anybody could access that road so that would definitely create some concerns among our people,” Kenequanash said. “So there needs to be some assessment done on the whole situation.”
Kenequanash said the Shibogama communities are at a crossroads in terms of development in their area.
“The government and industry are looking to develop our homelands and people should come together and work together on these issues rather than have somebody else take it over,” Kenequanash said. “Our people need to be fully engaged in terms of what goes on in our homelands.”
Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug’s Peter Nanokeesic, public works manager, said his community is planning to use the Asheweig Winter Road, which has already been realigned over land in a number of areas, this winter.
“Also, we’re trying to make a road towards Bearskin Lake as well, that would go around our big lake,” Nanokeesic said, noting that Chief Donny Morris has been aiming for an all-land route to Bearskin. “This year we finished that clearing up to the joining winter road on the west side of the lake here.”
Nanokeesic said the community is looking to have both routes ready for this winter so they have more options to bring in supplies.
“We didn’t have much use of the winter road (this past winter) in terms of hauling material or fuel or anything like that,” Nanokeesic said. “This year there was quite a bit of damage to the winter road on the first fleet — after that it wasn’t much of a use. Large boulders and various conditions halted delivery.”