For 30 years the chief and council of the Hatchet Lake Denesuline Nation have been trying to build an all-season road to their community.
In the past, 14 kilometers of a road has been constructed, but 88 kilometers has yet to be built. The estimated cost for the remaining construction sits at roughly $1 million per kilometer, or $88 million.
“Being in the remote [area] here is a big challenge; it’s always a struggle, especially the freeze up and the thaw out,” Hatchet Lake Chief Bart Tsannie said. “The only way to get the community during those [months] was by air.”
The community’s chief said bad weather has a severe impact on people who rely on air transportation to get to medical appointments in the larger city centres to the South. Expansion of the health centre is one possibility he is considering to reduce the reliance on aerial medical transportation.
According to Ann Robillard, the CEO of the Hatchet Lake Development Limited Partnership, one of the biggest challenges her company faces is transportation.
“We have about 50 loads that need to come in for the construction, with fuel, with propane, and housing, etcetera,” Robillard said.
For seven months of the year, the development partnership relies on the “small” community barge according to Robillard. During the remainder of the year, the community is at the mercy of the elements. Trucks traversing the ice highway connecting Wollaston and Hatchet Lake to the rest of the province can only do so when the ice meets minimum thickness requirements to support their weight.
She said the construction of an all-season road would allow for Northern Wild Fisheries' fish processing plant to increase their export volume, and ultimately remove any perceived limits on potential economic growth in the community.
Prince Albert Grand Council (PAGC) Vice Chief Joseph Tsannie, who oversees the organizations Athabasca region district, said there is a “shovel ready” plan in place to construct the road.
“We’re still waiting in terms of monies flowing to the community to get the work done,” the PAGC Vice Chief said. “[We have] our contractors, our business arm with Hatchet Lake, and the Athabasca business arm. We do have equipment ready to go, we do have a plan.”
Joseph said the environmental assessment plan is complete and a strategy is in place to construct the road. He said once the first 14 kilometers of the road were completed, the remaining funding was pulled.
He said the federal government was willing to make funding available to restart construction last fall, however the commitments to complete the all-season road once again changed. He now hopes the partnerships which have been built between the community, the province and the federal government will allow for the road to be finished.
Joseph said the construction of an all-season road would have a direct impact on reducing the cost of living in the northern regions of Saskatchewan. It could also reduce the amount of deaths caused by people navigating the lake.
“There was a teacher a couple years ago trying to cross the lake and there was open water; she didn’t know there was open waters and went right through and drowned. There’s people that have been trying to boat across lost in a big lake like that [and] never been found,” the vice chief said.
Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations Vice Chief David Pratt travelled to Wollaston Lake and Hatchet Lake to discuss the challenges facing those communities, and the entire North including the construction of an all-season road.
“Obviously the road is very important to [the Prince Albert Grand Council]. They’ve had commitments in the past and we’re going to work alongside them in terms of putting that pressure on both levels of government… to see that road finished because it’s going to create so much economic opportunities for them.”
Pratt said the construction of an all-season road would allow Hatchet Lake to generate their own source revenue while creating more opportunities for band members and local companies like Northern Wild Fisheries.
He said the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations recently sat down with the newly minted Department of Indigenous Services to present an action plan addressing the most significant challenges facing northern Indigenous people, including the all-season road to Wollaston and Hatchet Lake.
“We need those major investments to come,” Pratt said. “We’re encouraged by the federal budget, but there’s still a great deal of work to be done.”
Community members want road
The grassroots people of Hatchet Lake also called for an all-season road which they say could address some of the mental health and food security issues faced in their community.
“Definitely, we need a road,” former Hatchet Lake councillor Sarazine Josie said. “The reason why I say we need a road, not only for the economy, also, when they have gatherings like healing conferences in surrounding communities, we can have access to those communities.”
She said the band does offer support to youth and parents who want to attend different conferences or healing summits and the administration's help is appreciated, but an all-season road would make the travels easier.
For homeowner and water treatment plant staff member Jonas Sha’oulle, an all-weather road is an important topic the federal and provincial governments need to address. He said the road could bring a steady flow of groceries into the community so band members don’t need to go South for shopping.
“Especially in the spring time, you have to charter a plane across to get some stuff in, and [again] in the fall,” Sha’oulle said. “We need an all-weather road.”
On Twitter: @BryanEneas
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