FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
April 20, 2021
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Read Kenora Online’s article, “Residents feel ‘trapped’ due to First Nation road blockade.”
Kenora, ON, April 20, 2021 – Wayne Warkentin was nervous about travelling over the ice to get to his doctor’s appointment in Thunder Bay on March 30th, but he had no choice. Wayne had been feeling weaker and sicker every day for the past couple of weeks and he needed to get to the doctor. The only way from his home to the highway was over an increasingly thin stretch of ice. This was because Washagamis Bay First Nation (WBFN) Chief and Council had unilaterally cut off road access for the 114 property owners who live south of the reserve. This action ended over 30 years of written, legal contracts that had built and maintained the road for the benefit of both communities.
Wayne had no choice but to ride his quad across 18 kilometers of ice that was no longer thick enough to support his truck. It meant he was all alone on the soft and melting ice road after leaving his wife behind. By the time Wayne reached the landing off the ice road, he felt lightheaded and tired. His condition had deteriorated so quickly that once he arrived at the Kenora Hospital, he was flown by emergency air ambulance to Thunder Bay and had emergency surgery to put a pacemaker into his chest.
Wayne’s experience was just the latest in a long line of difficulties experienced over the last year by members of the South End Road Association (SERA) community. Last summer a person died after suffering a stroke, and the victim had to be transported by boat to Kenora.
“The WBFN Chief and Council has shown indifference to the fear and stress in our community” says Rico Bertschinger, President of SERA. “For a year we have texted, emailed, called and written asking to talk, without any response. Many of our permanent residents are our elders, people who have made their homes here, built their retirement and lives around this beautiful lake and land.”
So far, the Government of Canada has stayed silent. The office of Minister Marc Miller of Indigenous Services Canada claims that, “Our Job is to support the community of Washagamis Bay in whatever decision they make, regardless of how it effects other communities.” The only advice he and his office has given was to “talk to Minister Blair’s (Public Safety) office if you are worried about lives, maybe they can help you.” Ontario Minister of Indigenous Affairs Greg Rickford has also proven to be of no help. “We had an initial meeting with Rickford, and he promised to help, promised to call the chief.” Says Nancy Salmijarvi, who retired to Lake of the Woods over 10 years ago, “now he won’t even answer our letters, or emails.”
“We call on Chief Sinclair and her legal counsel, Bruce McIvor, to stop putting people’s lives at risk. We request the government urge the band to open negotiations with us. The government has a table – won’t they please invite us to it,” adds Bertschinger. “The ice road is no longer stable, and boats cannot travel yet. These residents are trapped until the water opens up.”
If you would like more information about this topic, please contact media Contact Neil Mackie at 403.862.4053 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org