(Kitcisakik, Abitibi-Témiscamingue) Within three years, residents of the Aboriginal community of Kitcisakik, about 100 kilometers south of Val-d’Or, will no longer have to burn thousands of dollars of gasoline a year in their generators: they will be connected to Hydro-Quebec’s power grid, the state company promised on Monday.
Updated at 0:12
“It’s not an electricity project, it’s a humanistic project,” said Sophie Brochu, CEO of Hydro-Québec, in an interview with The press on the sidelines of his visit to Kitcisakik on Monday.
This is the first time she is in this Anishnabeg village in La Vérendrye Wildlife Reserve in Abitibi-Témiscamingue.
“The community is rich in their children and that gives even more meaning to electrification because they start in their lives,” argued Frau.me Brochu, clearly delighted by the presence of the laughing children playing around them.
Hydro-Québec has committed to connecting the village to its grid by 2025.
A long-awaited announcement that “will mark the history of the Kitcisakik community for several generations,” said Anicinapek Council President Régis Penosway at a press conference in Val-d’Or shortly before.
Over $20 million
“It will change the way we live,” Jimmy Papatie explained to us the day before, showing us the heavy petrol cans he has to fill into his two generators. These provide enough electricity for the light, fridge, internet connection and television, but not for heating. To do this, he must split the wood that feeds his slow-burning stove.
“I’m 58 years old, I’m diabetic, I don’t have the strength I used to have,” summarizes Mr. Papatie. Electric heaters are also “a plus for single mothers and senior citizens”. Especially since the generators are loud, nauseating and greedy.
“It still costs me $400-$500 a month,” Augustin Penosway, who passed the wheel of his van when he got to the village on the road overlooking the Dozois reservoir, told us.
The proximity of this reservoir and its retention dam, two Hydro-Québec facilities, are daily reminders of the presence of the state body and its lack of services in the community.
“It’s about time we got electricity here!” “, Marie-Hélène Papatie started, met in the center of the village. “That would be good, especially in winter. It’s very cold in my big house! »
Hydro-Québec will bear all of the costs of connecting the community to its grid via a transmission line approximately 70 kilometers long. “It’s a project that will cost money, [moins] 20 million,” estimates Mme leaflet.
For its part, the Secretariat for Indigenous Affairs will fund the work needed to bring the village’s hundred dwellings into line with the public grid. The cost, which depends on needs, has yet to be determined, says one in Quebec.
For its part, Ottawa will foot the bill for connecting the community buildings, which are currently powered by diesel generators.
Lack of roofs and water
“It’s okay to bring in Hydro-Québec, but what are we doing to ensure that the young people each have their own house? ‘ stressed Adrienne Anichinapéo, whom she met on Sunday during her visit to Val-d’Or.
Since Kitcisakik is not a reserve, the houses belong to the families and many are in a state of disrepair. The two adult sons of Mme Anichinapéo are often under his roof, more comfortable than theirs. “With what the materials cost today, they can’t afford it [de se construire] “, She says.
You are not the only ones. According to the latest Index of Economic Vitality from the Institut de la statistique du Québec, the median adult income in Kitcisakik was $20,000 in 2018.
“Each time housing issues surfaced in our priorities, Kitcisakik had become an essential reference,” Quebec and Labrador Indigenous Congregation leader Ghislain Picard said at Monday’s news conference.
While Chiefs Picard and Penosway warmly applauded the efforts of Hydro-Québec, its CEO and Quebec City, no one has forgotten that Kitcisakik has still not received another equally important service, namely running water.
“What we have been told by our federal partners is that the location of this community does not allow for digging and building infrastructure,” recalled Minister for Aboriginal Affairs Ian Lafrenière.
A sanitary building in the heart of the village offers toilets, showers and a laundry room as well as drinking water taps where the residents can fill the boilers they have brought with them.
“They always have a smile on their faces, but it’s not an easy life,” says Martine Carrier, the Kitcisakik Health Centre’s nurse in charge, who has worked in the community for 18 years.
Households without electricity and often without a refrigerator deprive their residents of certain antibiotics that have to be kept cool. She herself almost lost a supply of vaccines when the generators that power the center went out for several hours. Even heating with wood alone is “very problematic” for the many children who suffer from asthma.
If the problem of electricity is soon solved, that of running water will remain.
“If the kid has a stomach and you have to wash it when it’s -40, you stay at home. Single mothers who have just given birth have to organize themselves to fetch water,” explains Mme Carrier.
Quebec says it’s waiting to see what will happen with the village’s resettlement, long debated but still undecided.
“The case is ongoing,” Chief Penosway assured
Uncertainty over the final location of the village has long been cited as a reason for the delay in Kitcisakik’s electrification. Quebec and its Crown Corporation have finally decided to move forward without further delay. If people in the community “decide to go somewhere else, at least think about it with light, heat and electricity,” slipped Mme Brochu during his visit.