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Sandy Lake First Nation celebrates the arrival of power and light

The remote northwestern Ont. First Nation now has reliable electricity, thanks to the Wataynikaneyap Power line

SANDY LAKE — Another First Nation celebrated Wataynikaneyap Power “bringing the light” on Friday, National Indigenous Peoples Day.

“The Wataynikaneyap Power transmission system means more than reliable electricity for the community,” Sandy Lake Chief Delores Kakegamic said.

“It means we can build new homes and buildings, such as our new health centre, and connect them to power. It means we will no longer need to react, almost daily, to power outages.”

The fly-in community of more than 3,000 northeast of Red Lake began getting power via the Wataynikaneyap line on April 18, but June 21 was chosen for the celebration.

Wataynikaneyap means “line that brings light” in Anishiniiniimowin (Oji-Cree), and the company’s transmission line brings light by connecting remote First Nations to the Ontario power grid.

Wataynikaneyap Power’s website describes the company’s vision as “to provide reliable and affordable power to residents, businesses and industry in the region, realizing opportunities for First Nations.”

Majority-owned by a partnership of 24 First Nations, Wataynikaneyap Power connected Pikangikum First Nation to the provincial grid in December 2018.

Eleven other First Nations in Northwestern Ontario — including Wunnumin Lake, Kasabonika, Wapakeka and Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug — have fully connected to the grid through Wataynikaneyap since then, with four more connections to be completed soon.

Connection eliminates the need for diesel-burning generators, which have a big carbon footprint and less reliability than power from the provincial grid.

As a local Hydro One operator for the last 25 years, Sandy Lake member Bobby Kakegamick was in charge of keeping the community’s diesel generators running.

Kakegamick said after a blessing ceremony at the local Substation W that he was thankful for the transmission line because the old system was often strained “to the max.”

Local distribution of electricity will continue to be done by Hydro One Remote Communities Inc.

The Wataynikaneyap transmission line “will allow our communities to enable improving the infrastructure, housing and even pursuing business opportunities for the communities,” said Margaret Kenequanash, Wataynikaneyap’s chief executive officer.

“There’s a lot of things that our communities can do, and having reliable energy in the area opens those doors and (enables First Nations) to explore more in terms of what initiatives will be happening,” Kenequanash said.

“A growing community like Sandy Lake First Nation needs reliable power to advance community development initiatives, improve infrastructure, and provide the best for community members. That has been accomplished today.”

Friday’s four-hour community celebration was emceed by Adam Beach, an award-winning film and television actor of Anishinaabe descent.

“I’m just happy that he’s here to be joining us,” Kenequanash said of Beach’s participation.

“And I think it’s an encouragement to the youth of the community — that we can be anybody we want to be and we can pretty much do anything we want to do, as long as we do it properly and appropriately and with the support of our people and our leaders. We can do anything.”

MPP Sol Mamakwa, whose Kiiwetinoong riding includes Sandy Lake, said the power line is bringing hope along with the light.

— NWOnewswatch