Pikangikum First Nation: Agent to pay fuel bill in reserve's crisis Took over finances
- June 29, 2001
Agent to pay fuel bill in reserve's crisis Took over finances
An "Indian agent" hired by Ottawa to oversee spending on the Pikangikum First Nation has agreed to pay the impoverished reserve's overdue fuel bill -- which has reached more than $300,000 -- though teachers continue to go unpaid and repairs to the water treatment plant are on hold.
The decision comes as a surprise to band leaders, because the Chief and Council refuse to meet with the company's agent.
Until yesterday, band residents were bracing themselves for a power blackout. The reserve's hydro grid runs on diesel fuel, and there is only enough to last until the end of July.
Ottawa's decision to cover the bill, which has been outstanding since the end of February, is a relief to the community of 2,100, situated 300 kilometres northeast of Winnipeg. But the band's lawyer, who has asked a judge to review Ottawa's takeover of the reserve's finances, said if the Indian agent can allocate money for fuel, he should be handling other unpaid accounts too.
"They are picking and choosing," Doug Keshen said yesterday from his office in Kenora, Ont.
Citing severe social problems and fiscal mismanagement, Robert Nault, the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, stripped the reserve of the power to control its money last month.
Despite previous assertions by Ottawa that band salaries and other expenses cannot be paid without co-operation from the reserve, Ottawa said yesterday the fuel bill can be dealt with because Petro-Canada sent on the bill.
If band leaders handed over information about other reserve expenses, a ministry spokesman said, the agent would pay those too.
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