Innu band councils seek to extract money for houses, sewage treatment
Happy Valley-Goose Bay — It’s a fund that was set up so that future generations could have a measure of financial security.
The money was supposed to be locked in for 70 years, and each child would receive an allocation on his or her 18th birthday.
Now, the band councils of Sheshatshiu and Natuashish want to dip into that fund and extract millions of dollars — money that can only be touched in an emergency.
Sources say the amount of the request is $25 million.
When Yvette Pastiwet — who lives in Sheshatshiu and is a parent and a member of the Innu Nation board of directors — heard about the proposal, she began a petition.
In two days she collected 288 signatures.
She said other parents aren’t happy about it either.
“They want to get into this money and we, as a people, have to speak for our children.”
After she started the petition, Pastiwet learned that her father, the late former chief Ben Michel, was instrumental in creating the trust fund.
That fuelled her motivation.
“I feel that my dad left a legacy for me to speak for the kids,” she said.
Sheshatshiu Chief Sebastien Benuen could not be reached for comment but he did address the issue on radio Thursday.
He said there’s a housing emergency, and the new sewage treatment facility being built is short of money and the contractors need to be paid.
“If there is a crisis, I haven’t heard about it,” Pastiwet said.
Natuashish Chief Simeon Tshakapesh confirmed the band is looking for money to finish houses that were supposed to be completed this year.
“We’ve got no money for houses. We’ve got about 76 people looking for houses,” he said.
“The federal government is not going to give us any capital to build the infrastructure.”
He said the community also needs a healing centre.
“We need to start sending people to treatment centres,” he said, adding he did not want to comment further.
The board of trustees will vote on the proposal today. Four of six appointed trustees will have to vote in favour of a motion to withdraw money from the fund in order for it to pass.
Two trustees were appointed by each band council and two by the Innu Nation.
Herman Montague, who lives in Sheshatshiu, feels there are other measures the government could be taking instead of dipping into the trust fund.
Some people question the government’s financial priorities.
Before Christmas, the band councils in both communities gave each resident $4,000. With a combined population of approximately 2,300 people, that’s $9.2 million —more than a third of what the bands are looking for now.
This week, Tshakapesh announced a plan to have WWE wrestlers brought to Natuashish. As well, four children and a chaperone are being flown to see wrestling in Toronto.