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4 First Nations in Manitoba declare state of emergency because of winter road issues

February 7, 2024

APTN News: Four First Nations in remote northern Manitoba are declaring a state of emergency because of the quick deterioration of their winter road network.

Also known as ice roads, they’re the only way in or out of the communities by land and are necessary for delivering essential goods – but the unseasonably warm weather is making them unusable.

“One chief told me that driving on their winter road is like driving on sponge,” said Keewatin Tribal Council Grand Chief Walter Wastesicoot who joined a news conference with a number of chiefs via Zoom from Thompson, Man.

Relying on winter roads to receive fuels, food, and construction equipment has become difficult.

Close to 1,000 semi-truck loads of essential goods delayed in getting to the Island Lake Anisininew Nation communities of Garden Hill, St. Theresa Point, Red Sucker Lake and Wasagamack.

“We haven’t gotten any loads in this year. Our winter roads aren’t even open yet, the winter road crew are still battling trying to open the winter roads,” says Garden Hill First Nation Chief Charles Knott. “I just got word from my community that we only have about a week left of our fuel.”

He says it’s “unreal” how the climate has changed this year.

Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs Grand Chief Cathy Merrick says First Nations people are feeling the impacts of climate change disproportionately. “First nations people are among the lowest contributors to green house emissions in this country, yet research shows they’re the most exposed to climate change and the impacts of climate change,” says Merrick, pointing to the melting ice roads as an example.

She and the other chiefs have called on the provincial and federal governments to declare a state of emergency. “They can no longer wait when it rains in February in this province. They need the help, they need the assistance now.”

This announcement comes a week after the same leadership proposed a 252-kilometer all-season road to connect St. Theresa Point to Berens River First Nation, which has an all-season road access thanks to Provincial Road 304.

In northern Ontario, the delay in delivering two fire fighting trucks to Eabametoong First Nation because of the thawing ice road allowed a fire to destroy the community’s only school. Various other First Nations in Ontario are also experiencing issues with their winter roads.

Community members in Aklavik, N.W.T. are pointing to the effects on climate change for the delays in building an ice road that is critical to their daily lives in the winter. At the moment, only light vehicles and pick ups are allowed to travel from 120 km seasonal Inuvik-Aklavik ice road along the Mackenzie River.

With files from Karli Zschogner.

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