EDITORIAL: Roads to First Nations working in other areas (Thunder Bay Chronicle-Journal – April 30, 2016)


Current economic, social, education and health stats paint a bleak picture of Canada’s First Nation communities. This is particularly true of the so called fly-in First Nations located in Northern Ontario beyond surface road or rail access.

These communities have existed for centuries and once were self sufficient thanks to trapping and fishing. Today most fly-in First Nations are dependent on financial assistance provided by senior government.

Picture a situation where you live in a remote reserve linked only to the outside world by expensive air service of dubious merit; that you are governed by a distant oblivious ruler (Ottawa and Queen’s Park), and that you exist on government hand-outs which, if you decide to quit the reserve, you will lose.

No wonder fly-in First Nations folks dream of opportunities like mines opening up nearby that would provide jobs and a decent life.

A real example of such took place in 2005 when the South Africa miner, DeBeers established a diamond mine on the Attawapiskat First Nation’s traditional land, hired First Nation workers and provided trust funds to the band. Yet, the Attawapiskat band continues to agonize. Thus, even where opportunities exist, fly-in First Nation suffering continues.

What more is needed to achieve necessary quality of life improvements? For starters one must realize that current fly-in First Nations logistics are controlled by powerful vested interests who will resist any change in the status quo.

The fact is that most fly-in First Nations are locked into non-competitive very expensive supply chains. For example, in Northwestern Ontario, one dominant First Nations supplier controls over two thirds of all dry cargo shipments. Underwritten by government subsidy, the suppliers, be it for groceries, house wares or fuel, wish to continue a predictable, recession proof, and very profitable business.

If real reform is sought, Ontario should start by reviewing what neighbouring provinces are doing.

To the east in northern Quebec, radical change has delivered major benefits to the east coast James Bay Cree. Once the poorest and least developed First Nations group in Canada, in the 1980s they boldly rejected self-pity and outward blame and, led by the late chief Billy Diamond, produced major improvements.

The key is the opening of an all-season road linking the south 620 kilometres north to Radisson. Clearly the new road has provided open market access which has liberated Quebec First Nations from the closed social and economic situation currently suffered by Ontario fly-in First Nations.

Meanwhile, to Ontario’s west in northern Manitoba, there is another example of progress. Recognizing the need to improve fly-in First Nation communities, Manitoba has undertaken a 30-year all-weather-road building project along the east side of Lake Winnipeg.

With steady funding of $100 million a year for 30 years the program, the Eastside Road Authority, will build some 1,000 km of road. First Nations communities will not only benefit from reduced isolation, but gain job skills gained from the road-building task.

The relatively modest Manitoba initiative, along with to the massive improvements in Quebec, deserve serious consideration by Queen’s Park and Ottawa.

For the original source of this article, click here: http://www.chroniclejournal.com/opinion/letters_to_editor/roads-to-first-nations-working-in-other-areas/article_79f7df9c-0e49-11e6-8bf9-fb688a807e2d.html#user-comment-area