To paraphrase the immortal words of my late mother, who always said she was quoting Ogden Nash but in fact wasn’t (she had a gift for malapropism that extended to mal-attribution), “Spring is here, the grass is riz; I wonder where the people of Kashechewan is?”
Why they, of course, are on the move again, as indeed they are most springs, when the Albany River in northern Ontario floods.
It is beyond bearing that this is an annual trek, that everyone in this First Nation — about 2,500 beleaguered people — is flown out of the remote community on the south side of the river and moved to motels and hotels in towns such as Kapuskasing, at a reported cost to the public of between $15 and $20 million every time.
It’s as predictable a seasonal feature as the cherry blossoms coming out in Vancouver, a mid-April snow, Leaf hopes rising in Toronto.
And by most accounts, it’s been happening for about a decade, but since the collective memory is about 15 seconds, almost certainly longer.
Certainly, in 2006, when the federal government appointed a former Ontario cabinet minister, Alan Pope, as a special adviser and sent him to Kashechewan, Kash already had been evacuated three times in the previous 15 months — for flooding, sewage backup and water quality issues.
Pope was appointed by then-Conservative Indian and Northern Affairs Canada Affairs Minister (and later Alberta premier), the late Jim Prentice.
At the time, it was hailed as the first step to finding a lasting, long-term solution to the woes of Kashechewan.
A tattered Kashechewan First Nation flag flies outside St. Paul’s Anglician church on the Kashechewan native reserve in northern Ontario Sunday, Oct. 30, 2005.
Near as I can tell, all that’s changed in the intervening years since Pope wrote his report is INAC’s name; it became Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada, and then, two years ago under Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, was halved into two separate departments.
Pope’s report is probably flawed for its frankness — not to mention that he recommended moving the people to the Timmins area, where he lives.
Among the shameful facts he found (and he is a lawyer):
Kashechewan received, back then, “between $18 and 22 million each year in public monies,” mostly from the feds via INAC, but also from the Ontario government, Health Canada and the Mushkegowuk Tribal Council.
“This is a significant amount of money for a community the size of Kashechewan,” he noted, mildly in the circumstances.
(That sum, according to the First Nation’s consolidated financial statements for the year ended March 31, 2018, sat at about $33 million from INAC and almost $10 million from the Ontario Ministry of Community and Social Affairs.)
Yet, Pope said, “the Kashechewan First Nation has routinely advised INAC that the budgeted funds are insufficient to meet the needs of the community… INAC has replied that (the allocation) is “done fairly and as best as can be done given finite financial resources.
“INAC sees the provision of community services and facilities as a responsibility of the First Nation whereas …read more