The military can't rescue Lake St. Martin evacuees this winter because vacant houses at Kapyong Barracks are not fit for human occupation, a spokeswoman from the Department of National Defence said Tuesday.
"Of the 59 that are unoccupied, 57 are unavailable because they are beyond economic repair, on hold or require major renovations," the spokeswoman said in an email response Wednesday.
The response follows a letter before Labour Day from the chief of a flooded First Nation whose evacuees have been stuck in Winnipeg hotels all summer. Lake St. Martin Chief Adrian Sinclair asked Prime Minister Stephen Harper for the keys to Kapyong Barracks this winter.
The First Nation identified 126 vacant houses and asked to use them this winter for some 726 people who were forced to leave their flooded homes in May.
Sinclair expressed impatience in the response Wednesday.
"So if we can't go to Kapyong housing, what does the minister of Indian Affairs have in mind for us?" Sinclair said in an email.
"When is someone from the federal government going to sit down and plan our relocation with us? We've been in hotels since May 3 -- 116 days and $23 million later and counting."
Federal Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development said earlier that the extended hotel stay is running up a hotel tab of $490,000 a week. Regional officials are working on arrangements for some 150 school-age students to attend classes. So far, they say they're still negotiating with local school divisions to lease space. Provincial officials are working on relocation plans.
The military expressed sympathy for those who live on flooded reserves, but said it won't come to the rescue this time. "The Government of Canada values its relationship with all Aboriginal people and we are proud of the contributions of the Canadian Forces to assist Manitobans affected by flooding this year," the response read.
Hundreds of soldiers worked for weeks to raise dikes on the Assiniboine and Souris rivers against historic floods this year.
The Canadian forces offered no other details to explain why so many Kapyong Barracks homes are uninhabitable. The barracks homes were left vacant six years ago when Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry decamped to Shilo.
The Kapyong Barracks are the focus of a federal court case, brought by Treaty One First Nations, who claim they are owed surplus federal land and were never properly consulted before Ottawa sold most of Kapyong to Canada Lands, the Crown redevelopment firm.
There are 356 residential homes at Kapyong that were kept as military housing, 297 of which are occupied.
One military wife responded angrily to the request from Lake St. Martin: "The houses are filled with CF families... Did you happen to drive through this area and see that most of the houses are occupied? I know every house on my street is."