Robert Jimikin says he isn’t impressed with the new Minister of Indian Affairs, Jane Stewart. Mistissini’s director of public works says Indian Affairs is going backwards in dealing with Native housing issues. “There’s so much red tape required to release funding it’s a headache for us,” he says.
Jimikin was talking about six houses taken off of their foundations for Mistissini for renovations. The move displaced families who had to look for other accommodations, store their furniture and personal possessions until the renovations were complete. But the renovations are on hold because of problems getting the promised Indian Affairs funding, and the families are still out in the cold.
The delay is due to a cabinet change after this year’s federal election says Jimikin. He said the feds have reneged on their preelection promises. “When we were informed in March, everything was finalized. It was just a formality having a new cabinet, plus the commitments or agreements made by the former administration would be honoured. But the new cabinet that came in has their own policies and criteria.”
The problems stem from an announcement by Indian Affairs about a year and a half ago, Jimikin says. Indian Affairs said they would inject more funding into renovation programs. Included in the package was about $6.5 million earmarked for the Crees. Mistissini had a number of pre-fab houses the community needed renovations on. The total project would cost $1.3 million.
Jimiken says the construction committee met, and armed with the promises of funding, put the project together. They would renovate 17 foundations. They proceeded to hire local labour required to do the job.
The Mistissini Band used bridge financing to start the renovations based on promises from Indian Affairs that the problems will be over. But things are now on hold since the funding still hasn’t materialized. “Even as I talk to them, they keep saying next Friday. It’ll be settled but there is still nothing confirmed in writing to us. We are taking a big risk on our part,” Jimikin says.
Other projects also depend on these funds. “We have to work on the extension of the infrastructure (water, sewage, roads, etc.) for the new area. Our funding is very tight,” Jimikin adds. “Everything has been tied up at the political level. Here we are at the local level trying to provide services and decent accommodations for people. Our hands are tied most of the time.”
Jimikin said they are pressuring the negotiation team to settle things for once and all. Personally, he will stay out of the negotiations. He said any contacts with Indian Affairs would be made through local political leaders. “I try to stay away from the politics. My interest is in the administration and making sure that we serve our people even though we have difficulties,” he says.
“Everything becomes a problem now. Everything stops for the construction holiday. If we go beyond the end of July, we are looking at completing a project sometime in late November. That’s without taking into account other factors,” Jimikin remarks.
The other factors add to the costs of building in the North. The money used for bridge financing could be earning interest in the bank but now that money is lost, Jimikin said.