Northern Sask. residents continuing push for all-weather road
For more than 30 years, northern leaders have been pushing to have an all-weather road built for Wollaston Lake and Hatchet Lake Dene Nation.
The Prince Albert Grand Council (PAGC) says if built, it would serve as a lifeline to the more than 1,500 people living there.
“A lot of times we do feel like we are forgotten living in the north with all the challenges that we have,” said Joseph Tsannie, Vice Chief of PAGC who is also from Hatchet Lake.
On Thursday, northern leaders renewed their calls on the road meeting with Premier Scott Moe and various ministers at the legislative building.
“It was an opportunity for the chiefs to engage with the provincial government and the Premier,” added Brian Hardlotte, Grand Chief of PAGC.
Leaders say people are risking their lives just to travel to and from the community.
In 2010, a teacher from Ontario died as a result of crashing into a large ice crash, flipping the vehicle and submerging in more than a meter of water.
In 2016, a service truck plowing the ice road broke through the ice and the driver was able to get out safely.
“I never thought it would happen to me, never thought I would go through the ice,” said Jerome Benonie from an interview with CTV in 2016.
“Just recently this fall time, we lost an elder. He drowned just trying to cross the lake in the community,” said Tsannie.
According to Associated Engineering in Prince Albert, the PAGC estimates the shovel ready 102 kilometre road will cost $66.9 million dollars say the price can be divided into three phases.
Both communities can only be reached by plane, by a barge in the summer or by an ice road in the winter. These three factors drive up the price for building resources, groceries and fuel. The PAGC says the road is also needed for Wollaston Lake’s newly built fish plant, ready for market.
“We contribute so much to this province. The community of Wollaston plays close to 2 million dollars in terms of energy costs to SaskPower,” added Tsannie.
“We’ve made a commitment on the ice road component and the first couple of kilometers was a commitment we made a couple years ago,” said Warren Kaeding, Minister of Government Relations, who was also part of the meetings.
The provincial government says it was in talks with the federal government this past spring. However, Kaeding says discussions were not finalized and the federal government shuffled its ministers.
“We’ve got proposals in front of Canada and we’re just waiting to hear back to what their response is going to be and what their commitment will be and helping us advance and developing that Wollaston Road,” added Kaeding.
The NDP says they support the community’s needs.
“The community and the chief and council want the road built once and for all. It is about economics, it is about safety, it is about making sure people have access to affordability, it impacts them with their groceries, their fuel and how they heat their homes,” said Doyle Vermette, NDP critic for Northern Saskatchewan and Cumberland MLA.
In a written statement to CTV News, Indigenous Services Canada says discussions are ongoing.
“The Government of Canada is committed to working in partnership with First Nations and provincial, territorial and municipal partners to improve essential physical infrastructure in First Nations communities. The Department continues to work with the Province of Saskatchewan and the Hatchet Lake Denesuline Nation on this initiative.”