On Jan. 19, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau visited Pikangikum First Nation as the fulfillment of a commitment he made shortly after the 2015 election, following a series of suicides by young people. In some respects, Pikangikum is ground zero in terms of poor health determinants – a lack of housing, clean water, and reliable electricity. In fact, the federal minister of Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs, Carolyn Bennett stated at last July’s AFN annual general assembly that any new housing for Pikangikum would not happen until the community is connected to a power grid.
The good news is that Wataynikaneyap Power is developing the 117-km Pikangikum Distribution Line Project to connect to the nearest provincial hydro grid at Red Lake. The anticipated completion is in November of this year. Until then, Pikangikum will continue to experience power outages when the diesel system breaks down. This energy crisis exacerbates the current deplorable and overcrowded living conditions.
On March 29, 2016, nine people died in a tragic house fire – six adults and three children. Pikangikum Chief Dean Owen stated that efforts to put out the fire were complicated by the muddy roads and lack of running water in most of the community.
These tragedies are far too frequent in First Nation communities across the country. In fact, First Nation people are 10 times more likely to die in house fires than mainstream Canadians.
Ironically, two weeks before his visit, the prime minister released a statement marking the 20th anniversary of the Great Ice Storm that hit parts of eastern Canada. The statement said, in part: “Without electricity, heat, food, and water, people were forced out of their homes and businesses could not stay open. The freezing rain made all forms of transportation treacherous. Impassable roads hindered basic services and made it difficult for emergency vehicles to help those most in need. Thirty-five Canadians died as a result of the storm.”
I would like to remind the prime minister that Pikangikum, and so many more First Nation communities, deal with ice storm like adversity on a daily basis. This visit should reinforce the prime minister’s commitment to improve the socioeconomic conditions of our Peoples. True reconciliation will not be achieved through apologies and funding lines in a budget to be released in 2020.
True reconciliation and the recipe for a new relationship with Canada includes:
- The importance and significance of our sovereign relationships;
- Significant land base and resources to flourish;
- Indigenous laws to regulate the lands, resources and relationships;
- Adjusting Canadian federalism and constitutional level discussions; and
- Observance and enforcement of treaties, and law and policy changes in adherence to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
In closing, First Nations need Equalization PLUS funding applied to address the ongoing legacy of poverty and despair.
Our inherent title of lands and treaties suggest we share equally. Now with the damage created by colonialism and the current impact to our communities – we demand our equal share of wealth derived from this land. For the sake of our children in Pikangikum, and in far too many other communities, we need to eliminate poverty and share the wealth now.
This is true reconciliation in action.
ISADORE DAY, Wiindawtegowinini, is Assembly of First Nations Ontario Regional Chief.