The federal government will allocate about $200 million over seven years to rebuild the tainted water-stricken community of Kashechewan.
An agreement between the disaster prone community’s Chief Jonathan Solomon and Indian Affairs Minister Jim Prentice was signed July 30 after negotiations began last March. But many are saying that this deal is not the best that could have been done for the community.
Kashechewan held a non-confidence meeting prior to the signing of the deal, but only 50 of the 1,500 inhabitants of the reserve showed up, all of them in favour of keeping the community where it is instead of relocating.
The previous Liberal government had offered a $500 million deal to relocate the community over 10 years. But, said Liberal Aboriginal Affairs Critic Anita Neville, “a $500 million price tag for moving the more than 1,500 residents to a spot 30 kilometres away was too rich for Ottawa.”
The community of Kashechewan has faced massive flooding twice in the last three years and was evacuated in 2005 amidst an E. coli contamination of the water supply, leaving the community in a precarious situation.
“I have the feeling that [Chief] Solomon went with the offer because it was this or nothing and it’s already been 15 months,” said Neville.
The Liberals are slamming the Conservative government because the party had previously said it would allow Kashechewan residents to decide their own fate. One report said a majority of residents favoured relocating on their traditional territory.
Indian Affairs spokesperson Patricia Valladao said the $200 million figure is only an estimated cost. “We will work towards rebuilding the community at the site it is on now. We really can not say how much is going to be spent as this is just an estimate.”
Valladao said the money would cover infrastructure, sewer, water and reconstruction of a dyke. According to Vallado, $50 million has been earmarked to protect and reinforce the dyke that surrounds the community to prevent further flooding. Also on the agenda would be the construction of 200 new houses over the course of seven years.
Valladao denies the Liberal charges that the government is ignoring community wishes. “Apparently there were consultations and most of the people did not want to move as they said that This is our land and really we don’t want to move.’ They preferred and they chose to stay where they are and have that money to be reinvested in the community in building new houses, infrastructure and fixing up the dyke,” she said.
During the consultation process two very different plans were proposed. The engineering firm Neegan Burnside examined both rebuilding Kashechewan where it is or to develop the community on land called “site 5.” The company estimated that to build a new community on another site would cost $474 million.