Remote Manitoba First Nation takes step toward building airport

Wasagamack Anisininew Nation is one step closer to getting a new airport.

On Thursday, leaders gathered in Wasagamack First Nation for a milestone announcement that reaffirmed the provincial government’s campaign promise to build an airport in the community.

Around 2,500 people live in Wasagamack First Nation, which is located 600 kilometres north of Winnipeg on Island Lake. According to community leaders, the area is only accessible by winter road, boat or helicopter, while the closest airport is a 10-kilometre boat ride away, in St. Theresa Point.

Wasagamack First Nation Chief Walter Harper said he was excited and happy to see the community’s dream of having an airport get closer to becoming a reality, after what he described as decades of “broken promises” as elders and residents pushed to get the airport built.

“We’re risking our lives…to get our stuff from the airport to our community. It’s very costly,” Harper said, adding that the new facility will help ease some of the physical and financial challenges those living in the nation face.

Wasagamack Airport roadmap

Harper said he hopes to see the airport built within the next five years.

According to a project road map outlined by community leaders, construction of the access road is already underway, with $8 million in work owing. The contract value is $34,418,818.

The next phase will include the design of the airport, which will take place over the next year. Access to the site is expected in fall 2025.

The community said it hopes to finish construction by 2027.

A preliminary airport budget is set at $45 million, but depends on the length of the runway and the complexity of the terminal building.

Support from community organizations, government

In a statement, the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs (AMC) congratulated Wasagamack First Nation on the announcement, calling it “a historic and life-changing accomplishment.”

“It’s also a demonstration of the good things we can accomplish together when governments support First Nations-led projects that support the inherent right of First Nations to self-determination,” said AMC Grand Chief Cathy Merrick in the release.

According to AMC, Manitoba committed $8 million to the Wasagamack Airport Development project. However, the provincial government has yet to release specific details.

“When we get through the design phase process, then we’ll be able to look at some more concrete numbers and what that means for each phase of the project,” Municipal and Northern Relations Minister Ian Bushie told reporters Friday.

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