Shirley Jensen-Klassen, a 64-year-old member of Fort McMurray #486 First Nation (FMFN), is currently living in a home without power, water, sewer service or garbage collection.
These essential services have been cut off from the residence for almost a month.
When Jensen-Klassen realized the problem three weeks ago, she called Ron Kreutzer, chief of FMFN.
“I asked why I’m not getting water and sewer and he said, ‘Because you’re not supposed to be living there,’” said Jensen-Klassen.
The home had previously belonged to Julie Cheecham, a long-time elder of FMFN. Cheecham died of cancer in November 2019 and Jensen-Klassen, along with her sister Sharon Jensen-Kreutzer, took care of Cheecham while she was sick.
When Cheecham passed away, the home was willed to Jensen-Klassen and her sister.
Councillor Samantha Wiltzen-Whalen said it is customary for FMFN to follow wills when re-assigning homes as the Nation does not have an agreed housing policy. In Jensen-Klassen’s case, Cheecham’s will is not being honoured by Kreutzer.
Wiltzen-Whalen said the chief had planned to give the home to another nation member and found out Jensen-Klassen was living in the home.
“Without my knowledge, all the services were terminated after that,” said Wiltzen-Whalen.
The matter came to a council meeting on Aug. 4 where councillors Wiltzen-Whalen and Ron Kreutzer Jr. decided, by quorum, that Jensen-Klassen could reside in the home. All services were then reinstated.
“Now the chief has taken it upon himself, without the authority of council, to go outside of the direction from council and cut the services off,” said Wiltzen-Whalen.
“What I would like to see happen is they allow her to stay in the home and they resume services. That’s what was decided by council collectively.”
Requests for comment from Kreutzer regarding the housing dispute went unanswered.
Wiltzen-Whalen said the situation has brought up serious governance issues. In order to reinstate services, Christina River Enterprises (CRE), the Nation’s services provider, is asking for quorum of chief and council in a written form. At the same time, they are taking sole direction from Kreutzer to keep Jensen-Klassen’s services off.
“If decisions can just be made willy-nilly by one member of council, we’re going to be in an uproar,” said Wiltzen-Whalen.
Jensen-Klassen said she is constantly fighting with the Nation to return her services. On Tuesday, her gas service was turned off. She phoned Wiltzen-Whalen, who had gas service returned later that day.
“It really stresses me. I already have bad anxiety as it is and every day they’re doing something to me,” said Jensen-Klassen.
She also said Kreutzer himself has come to the home in an effort to convince her to vacate the home.
When Jensen-Klassen goes into town for groceries, she needs one of her sisters to sit in the house. Otherwise, she is scared the Nation will come and board up the house while she is gone.
“Houses have been passed down from generation to generation, people’s relatives do it all the time,” she said. “I don’t know why the chief is after me, I don’t get it.”
Jensen-Klassen said she is looking forward to FMFN’s election on Sept. 18 and is hopeful for a change in leadership.
“But they’re not getting me out of here,” she said. “I’m not going anywhere else.”
Sarah Williscraft, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Fort McMurray Today