APTN National News
Canada will invest up to $60 million to connect Pikangikum First Nation to the Ontario’s power grid in a move that is meant to bring hope to the northwestern Ontario community.
The announcement came Thursday morning from Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada Minister Carolyn Bennett in Thunder Bay.
“This is the beginning of a vision for the region,” said Bennett at the media conference.
Pikangikum is one of 22 First Nations communities who are part owners of Wataynikaneyap Power.
The transmission company will develop, own and operate approximately 1,800 km of power lines in northwestern Ontario to connect First Nations receiving power through diesel generators.
“This is now a realization of the tragic effects of colonization and of decades of really underfunding and colonial practices that didn’t work or somebody else set the priorities,” said Bennett.
Chief Dean Owen welcomed the news.
“I’m very happy. Very, very happy,” he said.
Owen said Pikangikum outgrew its diesel generator capacity a decade ago.
As a result, the community of 3,000 faces power outages on a regular basis and has endured “detrimental impacts” from its inadequate infrastructure.
More than 80 per cent of the community’s homes are without water or sewer services.
“Community members have started dreading another winter coming where our power — as a community was well aware of — would be causing problems.
Problems so bad that the community has had to declare a state of emergency a number of times,” said Owen.
The community, which is located about 600 km northwest of Thunder Bay, has long struggled with issues like the suicide epidemic. This year alone Pikangikum has lost more than five of its youth to suicide, according to Owen.
Bennett said the investment to Pikangikum is about giving hope and dignity to the communities.
“It respects the community’s priority that they determine,” Bennett said.
“The community felt that the first thing that they needed to do was to be able to get a secure source of power such that they could then build on their community going forward.”
Owen said the project will give his community a new start.
“All of the work that they’re doing, that we’re doing, it’s all geared toward our youth, the future of our youth and this certainly will bring change and a secure future for our youth in the years to come,” said Owen.
Construction is expected to start this October and will be completed by fall of 2018.