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NDP, FN leaders call for follow-through on improving cell services

First Nation leaders say more cell towers near remote communities were promised in 2010 by Brad Wall and have not appeared
Betty Press Conference Feb 14
Sask NDP critic Betty Nippi-Albright speaks at a press conference, joined by Chief Leon Crookedneck of Ministikwan Lake Cree Nation and other First Nation leaders.

REGINA — Saskatchewan NDP are calling on the provincial government to fulfill promises made to First Nations communities to improve cellular service coverage in their communities, as an act of reconciliation. 

MLAs Betty Nippi-Albright, critic for First Nations and Métis relations, and SaskTel critic Trent Wotherspoon joined several First Nation leaders for a press conference on Monday, to highlight the issue.

Chief Leon Crookedneck of Ministikwan Lake Cree Nation, located near Look Lake, joined the MLAs to share that his community of around 1,000 people does not have reliable cell service, like many in the northern parts of the province.

“We’ve been dealing with internal issues of safety with our youth, our elderly, and it's the number one thing,” said Crookedneck.

The nearest cellular tower to Ministikwan Lake is approximately 25 miles away, confirmed tribal council representatives. Cell phone calls are not an option in and around the community, and residents needing to make an emergency call have to use a landline in nearby homes.

Band councillor Cameron Javier said the First Nation is looking for more commitment and conversation from the provincial government to solve this problem, in an act of equality in hearing First Nation voices.

“Human lives are at stake,” said Javier. “Connectivity is very key and instrumental to productivity, to better our economic situation, and we need to bridge that gap.”

Wotherspoon said connectivity in rural and northern parts of the province has been a concern for several years, with pressure on SaskTel and provincial government to solve the problem that has resulted in no action.

Former Sask Party Premier Brad Wall promised in 2000 to bring cell service to all four corners of the province, including installing a cellular tower near Ministikwan Lake Cree Nation, after the death of a young girl from Ministikwan Lake that involved a dropped emergency call.

Both Crookedneck and Javier confirmed that this has not yet happened for the community, despite conversations with both their representative MLA and SaskTel. 

The Ministikwan Lake Tribal Council said it offered to provide a portion of the cost for SaskTel to build a tower in 2010, an offer that still stands.

“We think it is wrong [these communities] were promised 12 years ago that this would happen, and the province walked away from it's word,” said Wotherspoon.

Previously this fall, the current provincial government announced that 74 new cell towers were in the final stages of installation. Nippi-Albright noted that none are in locations near Indigenous communities.

“In a province as wealthy as Saskatchewan, we should all have access to cell coverage, especially for things like calling for help in an emergency,” said Nippi-Albright. “This community is paying for services that they are not getting, and in this day and age that is wrong.”

Nippi-Albright said that lacking cell service puts community members at risk, and the province has failed to follow through on promises of improvement as an act of reconciliation.

“We can’t have meaningful reconciliation without also addressing economic reconciliation,” said Nippi-Albright.

The NDP are calling for immediate action from the government to provide adequate cellular service to Ministikwan Lake Cree Nation, as well as other remote communities currently lacking.

Wotherspoon is also calling on Minister Responsible for SaskTel Don Morgan to stop the pulling of a portion of the Crown’s budget this year, to allow investment into improving cell and internet connectivity.