August 8, 2016.
It has taken 20 years for township road 734 to get the go-ahead to be paved but Horse Lake First Nation Chief Eugene Horseman sees the approved funding as heralding in a new age of cooperation and acceptance.
“I never ever thought I’d see the day that this project would ever be accomplished, but I’ve noticed the change in this new government – the federal and the provincial. There’s been a willingness to actually work with First Nations,” said Horseman.
Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada has provided $4 million toward the upgrading of township road 734 from Highway 43 to Range Road 120. Horse Lake First Nation is providing the balance of $600,000. The County of Grande Prairie will be managing the project on behalf of the First Nation and INAC. Construction gets underway this month and is targeted for completion in mid-October. The county will continue to maintain the road, which will mean crack-filling and overlay, and snow removal. The county will also cover the $1 million cost of the bridge replacement which is scheduled for 2018.
Horseman says paving the road was a priority he held when he became a councillor six years ago. But while the provincial government was willing to put money into the project, the federal government wasn’t. Horseman notes that he’s seen documents from 20 years ago with other Chiefs requesting funding to improve the road. However, he was told by government officials that Chiefs failing to attend follow-up meetings stalled the process.
“I kept going year after year following up on this, seeing where they were at with our requests. Six years later finally out of the blue we got a call from …INAC saying we have some money for you guys to have your road paved, but it has to be this year,” said Horseman.
Now, last minute funding from INAC means no provincial dollars necessary for the paving.
Horseman credits band manager Darwin Ekstrom for working hard and focusing on the project to make this last minute funding work.
Horseman says he recalls riding the school bus on that road from Horse Lake First Nation to Hythe when he was a youngster. Accidents were plenty, including school buses sliding into the ditches, and washed out portions of the road made it difficult for emergency vehicles to gain access to Horse Lake First Nation.
“I really pushed to have this project done because of all the safety concerns I’ve had over the years,” he said.
While Horseman applauds the federal and provincial governments for what he sees as a new relationship with First Nations, he also has high praise for county leadership.
“(Reeve) Leanne Beaupre has been really helpful in wanting to work with the Nation and really having a willingness to want to reach out to the Nation, having Horse Lake be a part of the region,” he said. Horseman points out that in the past the county has worked with Horse Lake First Nation to lobby both the province and the federal government for funding for the project.
Beaupre says working with the Horse Lake First Nation on this project, as well as helping with funding to train the First Nation’s fire department and assist with emergency services, makes sense.
“The Horse Lake First Nation is part of our community and is within the County of Grande Prairie borders. We work collaboratively with all of our other municipalities within there and we just look at them as our neighbours and friends as well,” said Beaupre.
Horseman anticipates that only good will come out of this kind of cooperation between First Nation communities and non-First Nation communities.