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Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs calls for permanent road connecting remote communities

The Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs (AMC) is calling on the provincial and federal governments to build an all-season road, so remote communities don’t need to rely on winter roads.

On Wednesday, St. Theresa Point Asininew First Nation Chief Raymond Flett announced a proposal for a permanent road spanning from his community to Berens River First Nation, totalling about 252 kilometers.

He said the road is estimated to cost up to $512 million, would take about five years to build, and a decade to finance with the help of the Government of Manitoba and Parliament.

The benefits would be worth it, Flett said, saying the road would bring “a vast reduction in ice load risks in the Island Lake region. The route provides direct access to Winnipeg within six hours,” he said.

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AMC Grand Chief Cathy Merrick said right now, “St. Theresa Point Asininew First Nation remains remote and isolated as a fly-in-only First Nation. The proposed road is an essential infrastructure that will benefit First Nation(s) by providing improved accessibility,” she said.

Anisininew Okimawin Grand Chief Scott Harper said it is more than essential, but dire.

“I truly believe that it is a matter of life and death in some situations,” he said, adding that shorter and shorter winter road seasons inhibit the delivery of vital goods, like food and fuel.

When materials are flown in, it dramatically increases prices of basic goods.

Flett distributed a handout comparing the prices of regular grocery items in St. Theresa Point Asininew First Nation with Winnipeg prices. It said two dozen eggs costs $35.59 there, whereas in the city the same thing costs $10.12.

Red Sucker Lake Chief Samuel Knott said with the warmer weather, trucks haven’t been able to haul goods in yet. “We had 250 truckers that were expecting this winter road for out community,” he said. “How are we going to deliver our goods this winter?”

“The weather is not cooperating,” Wasagamack First Nation Chief Walter Harper added. “We have about, maybe, 200 loads to get into our community. And then you have these communities, you know, all in all, (that) probably need about 800 loads just for the Island region alone.”

Beyond groceries, Knott said an all-season road would “really improve our lives in the communities, because right now isolation is something that really hurts our young people in terms of mental health. You know, we feel like we’re boxed in into this, this big box,” he said.

Merrick said there have been mounting problems in communities relying on winter roads. So much so, that, “I’m sure you’re going to hear a declaration of state of emergency for these First Nation communities,” she said.

In an emailed statement to Global News, provincial Minister of Municipal and Northern Relations Ian Bushie said the province will be reviewing the proposal.

He added it would also keep listening and working with First Nations interested in building all-season roads.

&copy 2024 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.


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