Matt Jamieson, President and CEO, Six Nations of the Grand River Development Corporation, is photographed atop the roof of the Six Nations Bingo hall that is presently being refitted with solar panels at the Six Nations of the Grand River, Ont. on Thursday, March 4, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Peter Power

Infrastructure bank launches Indigenous initiative, advocates say money not enough

Infrastructure bank launches Indigenous initiative, advocates say money not enough

TORONTO — The Canada Infrastructure Bank is launching a program dedicated to upgrading transportation, clean power and internet networks in Indigenous communities, but advocates say the initiative doesn’t go far enough.

The bank announced Friday that it will offer loans of at least $5 million for up to 80 per cent of the capital cost of projects in key area including energy security, access to safe drinking water, reliable internet access and public transportation.

The announcement comes a month after the federal government asked the bank to funnel at least $1 billion toward these areas, but Indigenous leaders say it won’t will bridge significant gaps or create the level of economic development that’s needed.

First Nations communities face an infrastructure deficit totalling as much as $30 billion, a 2016 report from the Canadian Council for Public-Private Partnerships found.

“(The program is) welcome news, but having said that I take it with a grain of salt because we know that there is a really big infrastructure gap,” said Aluki Kotierk, the president of Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., which represents the territory’s 33,000 Inuit and their rights under the Nunavut Agreement.

A 2020 analysis from Kotierk’s organization didn’t quantify the infrastructure gap across Nunavut, but found the territory’s infrastructure is “inadequate, in poor repair, or altogether absent” when compared with the Canadian baseline.

The territory has the highest rate of housing overcrowding in Canada, the largest proportion of homes in need of major repair, the fewest staffed and operational hospital beds per capita in the country, the report said. Furthermore, the fastest possible internet speed available there is eight times slower than the Canada-wide average, the report said.

These kinds of problems are only exacerbated in a pandemic, said Matt Jamieson, president of the Six Nations of the Grand River Development Corp.

His community is a roughly 15-minute drive from Hamilton, but the high-speed internet and wastewater system its-big city neighbours enjoy are out of reach.

The change to virtual schooling during the pandemic led residents scrambling to fund telecommunications towers after their connection hit “the point of failure” and residents are constantly thinking about how to get a new wastewater system built, he said.

“It screams inequity,” said Jamieson. “When our community members look outside of our borders and they see things happening, they have no choice but to say, ‘What about us?’ We feel like we’re being left behind.”

Asked Friday about why the government hasn’t committed more money to bridging the gap, Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller said the $30 billion deficit estimated in First Nations communities alone is a “rough number” and “may not be the entire portrait.”

The federal government, he said, has invested billions in clean water and housing and he has a mandate to create an infrastructure plan that meets community needs.

The pandemic has put long-term issues into sharper focus, said the president of the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business.

Tabatha Bull said there are Indigenous people living in multi-generational or multi-family homes with poor ventilation, no room to physically distance and sometimes water not safe enough for hand washing.

“While for some of us, it’s comfortable to work from home and stay home, for some, it’s really not,” she said.

Bull is concerned the bank has only focused its funding on revenue-generating projects because some communities have infrastructure needs like housing and water that aren’t always money makers.

That’s a big concern for Kotierk too. She has noticed Nunavut communities experiencing COVID-19 outbreaks have crowded housing, women who must travel to other areas to give birth and tuberculosis rates that are much higher in the territory than elsewhere in Canada, but solving those issues won’t generate direct revenue.

Her wish list includes tackling these problems, linking the area to other regions of Canada with roadways and investing in reliable and affordable internet.

Bull wants to see global warming addressed because it threatens the reliability of roads in remote communities and creates a need for supply chains to be revamped and delivery costs to be reduced.

The infrastructure bank acknowledged that there is a “significant” infrastructure gap facing Indigenous communities, but said after the $1 billion announcement in February that it is working with First Nation, Métis and Inuit communities to explore future collaborations.

“This collaboration is a significant opportunity, and the CIB has expanded its advisory and investment team to include the necessary expertise to advance reconciliation with First Nation, Metis and Inuit partners while investing in much needed infrastructure projects,” spokesperson Felix Corriveau said.

Many communities have expressed an interest in working with the bank, which has already partnered with Indigenous communities on several projects, he added.

Jamieson is familiar with one of the projects because its being completed by his Six Nations of the Grand River Development Corp. and energy storage company NRStor Inc.

The pair have worked to build Canada’s largest battery storage park in southwestern Ontario with infrastructure bank funding.

The Oneida Energy Storage project will store clean energy during off-peak periods to be dispatched when there is high demand and ultimately save Ontario ratepayers money and reduce the need for natural gas plants.

While Jamieson knows providing more infrastructure investments might seem daunting, even for governments, he’s hopeful the project’s success will spur the action his community needs.

“It’s an innovative solution and a step forward,” he said.

“Really that’s an example of a win win-situation that unlocks partnerships, Indigenous inclusion, and collaboration.”

— with files from Mia Rabson in Ottawa

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 19, 2021.

Tara Deschamps, The Canadian Press


Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The Red Deer Rebels will have three new assistant coaches when the WHL regular season starts on Friday. Brad Flynn (left), will be on the bench alongside fellow assistant Ryan Colville (right) head coach Brent Sutter (middle). (Photo by BYRON HACKETT/Advocate Staff)
Sutter steps down as Red Deer Rebels head coach

Red Deer Rebels Owner, GM and head coach Brent Sutter has stepped… Continue reading

Premier Jason Kenney announced $200 million more money that will benefit seniors living in continuing care on Wednesday. (photography by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
Alberta’s in-school rapid screening test program expanding

Alberta’s in-school rapid screening test program will expand to as many as… Continue reading

Parents and students learned Tuesday what the coming school year will look like. It's pretty much back to business as usual, said Education Minister Adriana LaGrange. School precautions include frequent cleaning, keeping students in the same groups where possible, planning the school day to allow for physical distancing and staying home when sick. (photography by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
Alberta’s largest school board says no to United Conservative draft school curriculum

CALGARY — Alberta’s largest school board says it will not use the… Continue reading

Cowboy Kicks, originally scheduled for May 5, will now take place Sept. 18. (Contributed photo)
Westerner Park’s Cowboy Kicks fundraiser moved to Sept. 18

A major fundraiser for Westerner Park and the Canadian Pro Rodeo Sport… Continue reading

Red Deer Rebels forward Josh Tarzwell tries to tip a point shot past Lethbridge Hurricanes goalie Car Tetachuk in WHL action Friday night at the Centrium. (Photo by ROB WALLATOR/Red Deer Rebels)
Red Deer Rebels struggles continue, drop seventh straight to Hurricanes

Hurricanes score three power-play goals in 6-3 win

Red Deer-South MLA Jason Stephan is among those who have signed an open letter criticizing the government’s return to stricter health measures. (Advocate file photo).
Updated: Kenney tells UCP caucus COVID-19 dissent OK, breaking health rules means expulsion

15 MLAs released letter on Wednesday critical of new health restrictions

Owner of 4 Point Taekwondo Kevin Mejia holds a board as organizer and martial artist Kevin Olsen breaks it in Edmonton on Friday, April 9, 2021. One hundred martial artists from around the world, will be breaking a board for an event called "Break for a Breakthrough." The idea is for martial artists to unite and re-engage with the arts because they may have drifted away or lost enthusiasm as a result of the pandemic. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Break for a Breakthrough: Canadian hosts international martial arts demonstration

EDMONTON — Whether he’s breaking a wooden board, a clay tile, cement… Continue reading

Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip, Duke of Ediburgh, left, look on as Manitoba Beaver peaks out of his box at a July 14, 1970 ceremony in which Hudson's Bay Company observed an old tradition. The death of Prince Philip has reminded a small French village in Manitoban about how a royal visit half a century ago made the community the centre of frog racing in Canada. THE CANADIAN PRESS
Prince Philip’s frog-jumping legacy in a Manitoba French community

WINNIPEG — The death of Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, has reminded… Continue reading

The Yukon provincial flag flies on a flag pole in Ottawa, Monday July 6, 2020. Yukon residents will head to the polls on Monday for Canada's fourth election held during the COVID-19 pandemic. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Yukon residents set to vote in fourth election held in Canada during pandemic

WHITEHORSE — Yukon residents will head to the polls on Monday for… Continue reading

Conservative leader Erin O'Toole holds a press conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, April 6, 2020. Top Tory leaders of past and present will speak with supporters today about what a conservative economic recovery from COVID-19 could look like. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
O’Toole, former PM Harper speak on ‘build back right’ for pandemic recovery

OTTAWA — Top Tory leaders of the past and present will speak… Continue reading

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau holds a press conference in Ottawa Tuesday, March 9, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Liberals set to debate universal basic income, pharmacare, OAS hike

OTTAWA — Grassroots Liberals have taken up Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s call… Continue reading

Students enter the Pierre Laporte Secondary School as secondary school students return to class full time during the COVID-19 pandemic in Montreal, Monday, March 29, 2021. Pandemic-fuelled frustration has some teens expressing anger in unhealthy ways after a year of missed social connections that would typically help them mature and regulate their emotions, says a psychiatrist calling for more education on coping skills as part of the school curriculum. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
Teach students coping skills to deal with anger, including during pandemic: doctor

Pandemic-fuelled frustration has some teens expressing anger in unhealthy ways after a… Continue reading

In this file photo, a lotto Max ticket is shown in Toronto on Monday Feb. 26, 2018. (By THE CANADIAN PRESS)
No winning ticket for Friday’s $25 million Lotto Max jackpot

TORONTO — No winning ticket was sold for the $25 million jackpot… Continue reading

jobs - T - 3-6-2020
Finding a job: 3 job search truisms you need to accept

A job search has many moving parts; your mindset is the most… Continue reading

Most Read