The tale of Kashechewan First Nation is one of woe, regret, promises of a better tomorrow but little real action. Every spring for the past 17 years the residents of this small community have had to be evacuated because of flooding. That’s because the Canadian government relocated the community from higher ground to a floodplain back in 1957.
Unlike other Cree in the James Bay area, people there have not been able to participate in the spring goose hunt. Kashechewan Chief Leo Friday recognizes this has an effect of losing part of the culture, traditions and teachings. “We can’t even train our young generation how to harvest in the springtime. Even a lot of our young adults too are having a hard time calling geese, calling ducks and that’s how it is when you don’t live in harmony with the land,” he said.
Both the federal and Ontario governments have promised to work on solutions. Chief Friday has heard promises like this before. In 2005, Prime Minister Paul Martin said the community would be moved to higher ground. However, before anything could be done Stephen Harper was elected prime minister, and he had another solution. Move all the residents to Timmins, a plan the Kashechewan First Nation rejected.
“We can only imagine, those of us who don’t have to go through this, what it’s like to leave our homes every single year to go to a hotel in a strange city and to wait out and hope that when we return our homes are still there,” commented Ontario AFN Regional Chief RoseAnne Archibald.
The yearly evacuations are not the only troubling signs of government ineptitude this community faces. Under Harper, the federal government put the band council under third-party management. This is where an outside company takes over the finances of a First Nations band. As a result, Kashechewan First Nation is suing a number of businesses, consultants and lawyers to recover more than $11 million budgeted for post-flood rebuilding but disappeared under the third-party management scheme.
One of the co-managers, Joe Crupi, was sent to jail for swindling more than $1.2 million from funding meant for a kids’ breakfast program. Given that most people can’t even afford the basics, this was breathtaking fraud – taking desperately needed food from children. The feds are suing him and his brother saying they misappropriated $1.4 million from health funds. In 2016, we saw pictures of kids with severe rashes and other medical problems all over the news.
Third-party management only adds to the problems this community faces each year.
Friday says his community is frustrated with having to go cap in hand to the politicians each year. “So here we are again, having to evacuate our Elders, our children, everybody.” Friday feels the suicides by youth are a result of the displacement and dislocation experienced every spring. In 2007, 21 youth, including a nine-year-old, attempted suicide.
Ontario Indigenous Affairs Minister Greg Rickford said Ontario was ready to take action. “The families and children of Kashechewan have a right to a safe and healthy community just like every other Canadian,” Rickford said. Federal Indigenous Services Minister Seamus O’Regan also said he is committed to the relocation of Kashechewan.
This time, hopefully, the politicians will live up to their words. But don’t hold your breath. Unless you’re underwater.