Elder Mabel Clarke, who lives at Birdtail Sioux Dakota Nation, wants her front door fixed.
She said there are more elders on the reserve who have similar complaints.
Clarke had a list of issues she said are not being dealt with: duplexes that do not have back doors, and therefore no emergency exit in case of fire, and elders are not receiving their home visits from nurses.
"The chief and the nurses don’t look at us. I gathered all the elders to have a meeting. I told the chief, and he pushed us away about four times," said Clarke.
"And the nurses never come to see the elders. They phone the health office and there’s never anybody there. I’m not the only one saying that. There’s a few other ladies that were saying that."
On the list of repairs needed, Clarke includes doors needing repairs and some houses need ramps.
"We have to hang blankets on our doors," she said.
The Brandon Sun spoke to Chief Ken Chalmers on Tuesday. He addressed each concern, while noting 14 major renovations are currently occupying all available contractors. In five years, he has spent $5 million on homes on the reserve.
Every penny and house number is recorded with the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) or with Indigenous Services Canada (ISC), who provide funding for houses and house repairs.
On the matter of meeting with the elders, he cited COVID-19 concerns. A meeting would have meant almost 30 people gathered indoors, which would have contravened pandemic-related provincial public health orders and created a super-spreading event
As for Clarke’s house, Chalmers said that’s a far more complicated matter. Her home was fully renovated three and a half years ago to the tune of almost $50,000, but Clarke’s grandson went on a rampage, kicking in the doors and breaking the windows.
Chalmers said that’s a regular occurrence. One year, Clarke’s grandson not only kicked in the doors and broke windows, but also destroyed a wall, "electrical wires hanging down and everything."
One year, Clarke’s grandson also burned down the reserve church and went to jail for it.
Each time, Chalmers said, repairs have been done to Clarke’s home. He said he has all the records, and he figures he has spent $100,000 to $120,000 repairing the house that, in 2018, was in excellent condition.
"Every time, we fix it all up," said Chalmers.
Chief and council passed a resolution to banish the grandson from the reserve, but he can’t actually be removed unless Clarke presses charges. Chalmers said other family members have tried to get her to press charges.
"She’s a nice, nice lady, but she has to press charges on this guy. She refuses," said Chalmers.
"She lets him back in. Unconditional love."
Chalmers describes a man who drinks, is addicted to methamphetamine, is violent and causes a lot of trouble.
"And she’s taking the brunt of it," he said.
Chalmers also said others on the reserve are getting tired of it, because some also need home repairs.
Nevertheless, he said her home would be repaired. He has to find the money for it, but he won’t get it from CMHC or Indigenous Services.
"They’ll just outright refuse," he said.
Chalmers did say that once the 14 major projects are completed, his crew would turn to other smaller repairs.
As for the duplexes — they have windows meant to serve as fire exits. Chalmers said all building blueprints have to be approved before a build begins, and the buildings are fully inspected by an outside inspector. There is an entire process for that, which is tied to the funding.
When it comes to ramps, there is also a process. To begin with, a band member must qualify for a ramp for health reasons. The band has put in temporary emergency ramps until funding can be acquired from Health Canada to build a permanent one.
"We’ve been building those like crazy. We’re only allowed one or two ramps a year, but we usually build them ourselves. We built many this year already," said Chalmers.
"People call us — we need a ramp here, we need a ramp there. But they need a doctor’s note. There’s special funding for that. I just gotta know where you need a ramp and I’ll put it up."
Finally, home visits by nurses — Chalmers did not know what was going on with that. He leaves the health department to do its thing. He said it was the first he had heard of issues. Chalmers, who was in Brandon for a meeting, suggested the Sun call the health centre and speak with the health director to find out what might be going on with home visits. He suggested it might be related to the pandemic.
The Sun did call, but there was no answer.
Michèle LeTourneau, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Brandon Sun