By Bob Nault MP
PIKANGIKUM – POLITICS – For the second time in the last six months, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau joined us here in the Kenora riding. On Friday, I accompanied the Prime Minister and Minister of Indigenous Services, the Hon. Jane Philpott, for a community visit to Pikangikum First Nation. The historic visit marked the first time a sitting Prime Minister has visited a remote Northern Ontario First Nation community.
Not only did the Prime Minister follow through on a commitment he made to visit Pikangikum, it was inspiring to see how excited the residents both young and old were to see Justin Trudeau and meet with him face to face. I believe this truly illustrates the character and strength of Canada’s Prime Minister.
During the visit, the Prime Minister met with Chief Dean Owen and council to discuss the issues, many of them complex, which are important to the community’s future. I was impressed by the community’s leadership and the optimism they’ve shown in progressing forward.
It wouldn’t be a trip to Northern Ontario without spending some time on the lake. Accompanied by an elder and some local kids, Mr. Trudeau had the chance to do some gill-net fishing and pulled out a number of fish including a large Northern Pike. Only in the North does this happen.
Following his trip out on the ice, the Prime Minister, Chief Owen, Minister Philpott and I headed to the local Eenchokay Birchstick School, a state of the art facility that opened in 2016. There are close to a thousand students enrolled at the school, and it felt like everyone single one of them was outside to greet us. Afterwards, we toured the school and mingled with staff and students.
I thoroughly enjoyed being a part of an assembly hosted by the youth council at the school. These bright young students arranged a question and answer session and asked some pretty inquisitive questions to the Prime Minister. They inquired about housing needs, the importance of ending long-term boil water advisories throughout the country, and shared their concerns about substance abuse in the community. As Mr. Trudeau explained, these are all issues we must work together on solving and he committed to getting the job done.
Over at the Community Centre, we had an opportunity to spend time with Pikangikum’s elders. While the youth put forth a tremendous amount of energy and eagerness to live and learn, the elders provide a wealth of knowledge and insight that is always enlightening and continues to be passed down to future generations.
Friday’s visit was also the second time Minister Philpott has been in the Kenora riding since the summer. I am pleased to see her demonstrating a real commitment to her role of overseeing Indigenous Services and recognizing the importance of our riding, which includes 42 First Nations.
This visit further underlines our government’s desire to see our First Nation communities thrive. Recently, the federal government announced a $60-million investment to connect Pikangikum to the Ontario power grid. The 117-kilometer grid line from Red Lake to Pikangikum will not only reduce the community’s reliance on diesel fuel, it will open up new economic development opportunities and facilitate social infrastructure and programming for things like affordable housing, early learning, childcare, and community healthcare facilities.
It was apparent on the faces of all the youth in the community when meeting Prime Minister Trudeau that the kids realized and embraced their own significance. The kids saw how much they matter, how much they have to offer, and how much there is to look forward to. I’m certain that this visit will leave a lasting impression and be remembered for years to come.
Unforgettable is the only way to describe the day.