Skip to main content

Manitoba Aboriginals Roadless, on Thin Ice as Temps Soar

The ice roads that northern Manitoba First Nations depend on for essential winter supplies cannot be built due to higher-than-usual temperatures this winter, and delays are hiking prices
  • Author:
  • Updated:

Manitoba aboriginals are suffering from a lack of cold weather, as warmer than usual temperatures prevent the construction of ice roads to bring in supplies.

Unlike their Ontario counterparts in Attawapiskat, where First Nations are suffering from a surfeit of cold weather combined with shoddy housing, Manitoban aboriginals need the cold so they can make the ice roads to transport the annual 2,500 shipments of staples that come through by truck each year over 1,300 miles of ice roads, Grand Chief David Harper of Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak Inc., the political advocacy organization for 30 northern Manitoba First Nations, told the Canadian Press.

A good 30,000 people who reside in 20 remote communities that are only road-accessible during winter depend on this connection, according to the Winnipeg Free Press. The alternative is prohibitively expensive fly-in delivery.

Current temperatures in and around Winnipeg were reaching 7 degrees Centigrade, or 44 degrees Fahrenheit, on January 5, and Environment Canada said such highs were likely to last for a few more weeks. The previous high was 4.3C, or 40F, in 1984, CBC News said. This time last year it was Nunavut and its capital, Iqaluit, that were dealing with a heat wave.

In Berens River First Nation the high temperatures have created a health emergency, CBC News reported on January 5. The community had run out of gasoline and could not fuel its ambulances. Chief George Kemp told CBC News that health workers were unable to reach home-care patients and said that 30 residents may have to evacuate.

The unseasonably warm weather also means weeks of delay for $5.5 million in supplies that are scheduled to be trucked in to help residents of the four First Nations communities of Island Lake obtain long-awaited running water, according to the Winnipeg Free Press. As the newspaper has reported extensively, most Island Lake homes “lack indoor plumbing, and many residents have less access to clean water each day than is recommended by the United Nations for refugee camps."

The higher-than-usual temps are also keeping people off lake and river ice, as the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) have warned people away from such bodies of water.

This problem is not new, the Canadian Press points out. Supply trucks were stranded in 2010, CBC News reported, as winter roads thawed into muddy quagmires, prompting a few aboriginal chiefs to declare a state of emergency. Chief Harper told the Canadian Press that he plans to take the issue up with Prime Minister Stephen Harper at the Crown–First Nations Gathering to be held later this month.

There is a slight upside, as the Canadian Press reported: The floods that crippled Manitoba's prairie communities may not happen this year, due to the lack of snow and thus melt.