Northern First Nation calls on province to honour cell phone tower commitments

Leaders from Ministikwan First Nation were in Regina on Monday calling on the provincial government to honour their pledge to provide cell service in the community.

Chief Leon Crookedneck said his community has sought adequate cell coverage for 12 years, but so far have received nothing. He said community leaders have had short meetings with SaskTel, and lobbied their local MLA for help with no success.

“The number one thing is safety,” Crookedneck said. “We have no cell service to contact the emergency services we need…. Standing here, we do need cell service.”

Ministikwan leadership began lobbying for a cell tower following the 2010 death of Kerry Canepotatoe, a woman from the community who perished in the woods near Big River. Canepotatoe, 19, walked 60 km for help after the car she was in ran into a flooded dead-end road. She tried phoning RCMP for help, but her call was dropped and officers never investigated.

Community leaders say they thought it was only a matter of time before a new cell tower was built nearby, but the only tower in the area serves RCMP communications and not local residents.

Ministikwan has even offered to help fund the construction if that’s what it takes.

“We have a willingness to work together,” band councillor Cameron Janvier said. “We don’t like seeing opportunities fall through the cracks. It doesn’t create win-wins for everybody. We’d like to see a win-win for all parties.”

Provincial NDP MLAs Betty Nippi-Albright and Trent Wotherspoon attended the press conference in support of Ministikwan. Both MLAs argued the province was not following through on previous commitments.

“It’s completely unacceptable to have an iniquity like this for a community—for over 1,000 residents in a First Nations community—shutout from basic connectivity,” said Wotherspoon, the NDP’s Critic for SaskTel.

“In 2022, connectivity like cellphone coverage isn’t a luxury. It’s an essential service. It’s about basic safety and security. It’s about quality of life.”

Nippi-Albright, the party’s Critic for First Nations and Métis Relations, said community members were already paying for cell phone plans they couldn’t use in their own homes. She also argued the lack of cell service showed the provincial government was not serious about reconciliation.

“You can’t have meaningful reconciliation without addressing economic reconciliation,” she said.

“This example is systemic racism and (shows) how certain citizens in this province are treated as second class citizens,” she added.

The provincial government is in the final stages of building 74 new cell towers, but is seeking federal funding from the universal broadband fund to build one near Ministikwan. Crown Investments Corporation Minister Don Morgan said they submitted an application almost two years ago, but have not received a response.

Ministikwan is located near the Alberta border, roughly 103 km west of Meadow Lake.

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