January 13, 2006

Warm weather isolates northern Canadian natives

By Marcy Nicholson

WINNIPEG, Manitoba (Reuters) - A group of Canadian
aboriginal leaders said on Friday their northern communities
are in a state of emergency because abnormally mild
temperatures have hindered construction of vital winter roads.

"We were told all along that global warming is going to
affect our roads and now we see that today," said David Harper,
chief of the Garden Hill First Nation.

"Without the winter roads, all essential goods have to be
flown into the region."

About 10,000 people live on four Indian reserves in the
Island Lake region of Manitoba, some 450 kilometers northeast
of Winnipeg. There are no roads leading to the remote region
and goods are normally brought in by air. But during the
coldest months of the year, winter roads are built on frozen
lakes and rivers to cut transportation costs.

"It is a looming crisis and something that needs to be
addressed," said Dennis Meeches, acting grand chief of the
Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs.

The roads can only be built on ice that is at least 71
centimeters (28 inches) thick. It is still only 20 cm (8
inches) thick in some areas, Harper said.

The road's completion date has been pushed back from
January 16 to February 1, and Harper said it may not open at

He estimated that a four-liter jug of milk that currently
costs around C$16.40 ($14.14) will soon soar to C$20 ($17.24)
because of the increased cost of flying goods in throughout the
winter. Fuel supplies are also dwindling and may be rationed,
the chiefs said.

Major capital projects including housing, and water and
sewer, will also be in jeopardy, he said.

Aboriginal leaders are seeking government assistance to
tide them over.

The region averages daily highs of -17 Celsius (1 F) and
lows of -27 C (-17 F) in January. Environment Canada said the
area has averaged -5 C (23 F) highs and -12 C (10 F) lows so
far this month.

The unusual weather has been caused by a persistent
westerly from the Pacific Ocean rather than the more typical
northerly from the Arctic, the national weather service said.