Kashechewan report recommends moving reserve - Nov. 9 2006
A report on the future of the troubled Kashechewan community in northern Ontario recommends relocating the reserve to the Timmins area, 450 kilometres to the south.
Alan Pope, the federal government's special representative on Kashechewan, released his report Thursday flanked by representatives of the native community.
After spending five months working on the report, which included going door to door to canvas opinions and holding public meetings in the isolated reserve on the shore of James Bay, Pope said he believes the move will improve the lives of the residents.
"The benefits of such a relocation are clear," Pope said in a statement. "This will offer the greatest advantage of improved economic and individual opportunities to the members of the Kashechewan First Nation."
The move would provide the residents with access to improved medical services, educational and employment opportunities, clean water and proper housing, Pope said.
The potential cost of moving the community has not yet been estimated.
Under the recommendation the residents would continue to own the land where the reserve sits, and would be able to continue using it for traditional purposes such as hunting and fishing.
The Kashechewan reserve grabbed the nation's attention in October of last year when an E. coli outbreak in the water supply forced the evacuation of hundreds of residents.
The reserve was again in the headlines in June when the federal Conservative government said it wouldn't move the community to higher ground a short distance away.
Pope emphasized his report contains only recommendations, and it will be up to the residents to decide their own future.
"It's not displacing community from their traditional lands because it's their choice," he told the news conference. "The government isn't ordering anything. I'm not ordering anything. It's simply a report."
However, Pope said he believes the recommendation "offers the best long-term sustainable solution for the community," and he said his report was reviewed by residents who made additions to it.
Stan Louttit, grand chief of the Mushkegowuk Council who is responsible for Kashechewan, attended the news conference with Pope. He said he is concerned that an agreement struck with the current government won't be upheld by the next, in the event that the minority Conservative government falls.
However, he has hope for the proposal and said it is crucial that the residents decide their own future.
"They need to be in the driver seat, they need to discuss that report ... and they need to come up with a community driven action plan in terms of how to move ahead," Louttit said.
The report sets down some discouraging details about life in the Kashechewan community, such as the 87 per cent unemployment rate and 50 per cent high school attendance rate.
Louttit said those issues aren't new, but it's important to have them set down in "black and white" by a government appointed official.
Among its 50 recommendations, the report also calls for high-tech upgrades to water and sewage systems in Kashechewan and other communities along James Bay, the creation of a volunteer fire department and a community evacuation plan.