Rally for Kashechewan First Nation Demands Federal and Provincial Governments Permanently Relocate Community

The Kashechewan First Nation community from Northern Ontario demonstrated on Parliament Hill on Tuesday, April 30 to demand that the Trudeau government respect its promise to relocate the community, following the tripartite agreement to that effect signed between the Kashechewan First Nation and the Ontario provincial and federal governments in 2017.

Many children and youth were present at the rally, along with many who came out to express their support. One young person spoke out to say that the youth of Kashechewan want a bright future, but face the insecurity every spring of having their lives uprooted as they are scattered to various evacuation centres across Ontario. Other speakers expressed their profound sympathies with all those facing the flooding in Ontario, Quebec and New Brunswick. Another underscored the urgency of the situation, pointing to the youth, who were supposed to be in school, who every year have their education disrupted and now have had to travel to Ottawa to demand that the promises made to them be respected and that they be treated with the dignity they deserve.

Kashechewan is located on the northern shore of the Albany River, where it meets the western shore of James Bay. Every year, as the ice on the river breaks up, the flow of water into the bay is obstructed, at a time when water flow from melting snow is increasing. The people have to declare a state of emergency due to spring floods and be evacuated, as they have done every year for the past 17 years.

This year, the state of emergency was declared on April 14. The start date for the evacuations of 2,500 people was moved up from April 21 to April 15 due to rapidly melting snow. During these evacuations, commercial and military planes and helicopters airlift out the most vulnerable residents to other northern communities, such as Timmins, Wawa, Smooth Rock Falls, Fort Frances, Matachewan, and Kapuskasing, some as far south as Stratford. Typically they are unable to return home for weeks or even as long as two months. In 2014, it was estimated the evacuation operation cost $21 million. This figure does not include the funds spent on the inspection, cleaning and repair of buildings damaged in the flood.

The Kashechewan First Nation and the Fort Albany First Nation (located on the southern shore of the Albany River) were originally a single Cree community that became divided over a religious dispute instigated by missionaries. Roman Catholics moved to the south side of the river and Anglicans went to the north. In 1957, an Indian Agent arrived and "recommended" that those on the north shore relocate themselves, closer to the Hudson's Bay store and so that barges bringing supplies could more easily reach them. This "recommendation" was rejected because, as Cree elders pointed out, that "recommended" location was the lowest point in the area and was known to flood. The government nonetheless began to build a settlement at this low point. Two months later, the government sent in the RCMP to enforce the "recommendation."[1][2] The people of Kashechewan have faced the danger of spring floods ever since.

2017 Agreement

On March 31, 2017, the government of Canada, the government of Ontario and Kashechewan First Nation signed a framework agreement for relocation of the First Nation Community, to move them up river. A majority of the community had voted in favour of such an agreement before it was signed. According to a press release issued on the day of the agreement, "the tripartite agreement commits the parties to the development of an action plan to support the short-, medium- and long-term sustainability of the community, with a focus on improving outcomes in priority areas including housing, socio-economic sustainability, health programs and facilities, infrastructure development, and schools and community facilities.

"This collaborative initiative supports a better future for the people of Kashechewan First Nation and will include consideration of options for relocation of the community.

"A steering committee composed of representatives of Kashechewan First Nation, Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada, Health Canada and Ontario's Ministry of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation will provide general oversight and guidance on the action plan when developed. The committee will provide an annual report to parties on the progress made under this Framework Agreement."

Indigenous Services Minister Seamus O'Regan told reporters on April 30 that he could not offer a specific timeline for the move, but said the government is working with Kashechewan to make it happen as soon as possible. Minister O'Regan was reported by the CBC as saying that the federal government is working to secure the land from the Ontario provincial government. Once that task is complete, a road into the site will have to be built and a survey of the land completed. That will be followed by a consultation period, during which plans for the new town will be drawn up.

On April 28, the Kashechewan situation came up in the Ontario Legislature during question period. In response to questions from the NDP, Minister of Energy, Northern Development and Mines and Indigenous Affairs Greg Rickford said "There is a plan in place for Kashechewan so they don't have to be displaced year in and year out as a result of the flooding and the location that community currently is in." No actual information on that plan has been forthcoming.

The refusal to relocate the people of Kashechewan in a timely manner underscores the longstanding injustices against Kashechewan. In 2005, the community declared a water crisis due to E. coli contamination. Such water contamination resulting in boil water advisories, which many other Indigenous communities also face, can be the result of flooding. Meanwhile, to say the youth are having their education disrupted by the spring floods is a severe understatement. Faced with the impoverishment and hopelessness imposed on them by Canada's colonial relations with the First Nations, youth in Kashechewan, like other Indigenous youth across the country, often resort to suicide to escape their pain.

As people across Canada are facing the devastation of spring floods, with the possibility of the situation worsening due to climate change, the ongoing ordeal of the people of Kashechewan over several decades must not be forgotten and the federal and provincial governments must be held to account for this criminal negligence.


1. "How Kashechewan Created a Political Stampede," Julius Strauss, Globe and Mail, November 4, 2005.

2. Invisible North: The Search for Answers on a Troubled Reserve, Alexandra Shimo, Dundurn Press (Toronto, 2016).

(Photos: TML)

This article was published in

Volume 49 Number 16 - May 4, 2019

Article Link:
Rally for Kashechewan First Nation Demands Federal and Provincial Governments Permanently Relocate Community


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