Good afternoon to the members of the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development. I appreciate the opportunity to come before you today to talk about how we of the Nipissing First Nation use our land and how we are striving to obtain economic sustainability.
I trust that all members have received my briefing package. I have given my speaking notes to the translators. I have some facts and figures with me in case we get time for questions and answers. I am very flexible as a person. If the vote has to happen, it has to happen. I appreciate that.
First I'll say a little bit about Nipissing First Nation. Since time immemorial, we've occupied the land that surrounds Lake Nipissing. That's the lake from which we derive our name. Actually, we were called Nipissing, and because we lived around the lake, the lake was called Lake Nipissing.
We have an interesting archeological study. There they have found evidence of an interesting site that carbon dates back at least 10,000 years. We have only just begun exploring our history.
Presently we occupy a land base that stretches about 35 kilometres, on the north shore of the lake. That covers approximately 14,962 acres. We are bounded by two municipalities. To the east we have the city of North Bay, and on our western boundary is the municipality of West Nipissing.
We have a unique geography. We're different from most first nations. We stretch 35 kilometres along the land, as I have already said, but our members live in nine different communities. Some of them are large communities and some are hamlets with just a few people. The majority of our members live in the westernmost community and the easternmost community. We have a population of about 846 on-reserve members, and our off-reserve membership totals 1,521 people.
I said that Nipissing was unique. It's not like a typical first nation, where they have less acreage to monitor. The majority of their membership lives in one community. As I said, we have nine communities. Whatever is provided in the western community requires duplication in the eastern community. For instance, we have two day care centres. Our public works has to service all of our communities. We have two volunteer fire departments, and we need to build a third one in our eastern end.
Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada has on record that we have just over 51 miles of road. The funding formula does not take into consideration that for us to travel from the westernmost community to the easternmost community we have to transport equipment—everything—on highway 17. That's a 45-minute drive one way. Our public works staff will spend an hour and a half just going from one end to the other end of our community. If you want to get into all of our communities, you'd better plan for a full day of travelling.
Our public works department does not receive the funding it requires. It's as if they need that northern factor that will help us maintain our roads, maintain our equipment, and replace aging equipment.
Now I want to get to our land use. We use our land in four different ways. We have residential land. We lease land for residential purposes, and we presently have 308 leases. We also lease our land for commercial uses, and there are eight companies who lease land from us. We also use our land for recreational and traditional purposes. Under recreational, we also have a tent and trailer park on the beautiful shore of Lake Nipissing.
In 2003 we became a land management band. Since then we've made and passed bylaws to ensure our land is properly used. We are still in the process of developing our environmental law, a zoning bylaw to regulate businesses, and an archeological management plan. I'm very, very committed to the archeological management plan. There is so much history along the shore, along the streams, and along the rivers that our people used.
I want to highlight two areas of concern that we've been dealing with since we passed our land code. The first issue is an abandoned mine site. This land was leased around 1950 to a company that was mining uranium on one of the islands in the lake. The land was leased by the then Department of Indian Affairs. The company would bring raw materials that were mined on to the shoreline in one of our communities, and in their processing they left behind radioactive materials or tailings. That's called radon.
When the company gave up their lease, there was no requirement that it had to clean up that site on our shoreline. Today people can't go there; we have it barricaded off.
It was in the process of becoming a land management band, and thankfully we had to undertake an environmental assessment study.... That's when it became known that this site was contaminated. We have been attempting to work with Health Canada to clean up this site. We do want the material moved off our reserve. We don't want it stored on our reserve. We'd like it moved to a government-sanctioned site.
This site is on the contaminated list of sites in Canada. Presently Canada is trying to find the budget to get this material moved.
Another area of concern is a decline in our land management budget. Since 2003, we estimate our budget has dropped almost $300,000. The problem is that when new bands enter into this land management regime, the money gets divided among all the bands. Nothing more is added to that land management budget.
Last year, when we were at our Lands Advisory Board annual general membership meeting, we were informed of further cuts to our budget as more first nations were joining. In January, when I was present at the crown-first nations gathering here in Ottawa, the Prime Minister announced that even more first nations were going to be permitted to enter this very important process. The Prime Minister did not indicate any additional moneys for land management; he just said more are going to come into this process. I waited, and he didn't say they were adding more money for land management. So we have a situation where more bands are now having to use less and less money to develop their lands.
I don't want to sound as if I'm complaining, but it's my opportunity to bring some concerns forward.
When it comes to sustainable economic development, Nipissing First Nation is known as a progressive community, especially when it comes to economic development and the sustainability of projects that will benefit our first nation. We use best governance practices, open lines of communication, and we like to build partnerships.
Currently we have one industrial park, and that's on the eastern side of our first nation. In the park we have a recreational vehicle dealer, a tile and brick company—