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First Nations renew calls for all-weather roads after rail disruption

Chief Betsy Kennedy of the War Lake First Nation.

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Chief Betsy Kennedy of the War Lake First Nation. (JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)

Northern First Nations communities are renewing calls for all-weather roads to be built after a freight train derailment near Churchill earlier this week shut down rail service.

Chief Betsy Kennedy, of the War Lake First Nation, said in a statement released today that some members of her community, including herself, were stranded in Thompson when 13 rail cars full of grain went off the track on Monday.

"This is more than an inconvenience," Kennedy said.

"I have band members stuck in Thompson who need to get home to take care of loved ones and to earn their living. It’s expensive any way you look at it, whether they wait it out or pay for a charter flight home, as there is also no regular scheduled air service to the community."

Kennedy says OmniTrax has not paid her community any compensation for the costs incurred to fly her community members home. OmniTrax said on Monday it could be a few days before the rail line reopens.

Grand Chief Derek Nepinak, of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, said the latest derailment is one more reason all-season access to northern communities needs to be improved.

"These challenges are foreign to folks living comfortably in the cities," Nepinak said in a statement.

"While the province continues to generate millions of dollars from resource extraction and power development in the north, First Nation people from the same region continue to struggle to access medical attention, post-secondary education and food security.

"The responsibility falls on the province to make long term investment in First Nation communities."

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