The Mathias Colomb First Nation, Mathias Colomb Cree Nation (MCCN), Mathias Colomb (Cree) First Nation, Pukatawagan/Mathias Colomb Cree Nation is a remote northern Manitoba First Nation, located 210 kilometers north of the Town of The Pas and 819 northwest of the City of Winnipeg, Manitoba, which had two reserves under its jurisdiction, IR 198 and IR No. 199. The main community is at Pukatawagan, Manitoba. IR Pukatawagan 198 consists of 1536.6 hectares on the shore of Pukatawagan Lake and lies about 210 kilometers north of The Pas, Manitoba. Their second reserve was the Highrock reserve (IR No. 199) (CSD) located on Highrock Lake, 30 km downstream from Pukatawagan, which was dissolved by 2006.
According to Statistics Canada and based on the 2006 Census the population of Mathias Colomb Manitoba (Indian band area) was 1,576 in 2006 and Population in 1,533 in 2001. Of the 2006 population 10 people self-identified as Metis and 45 were not registered as Indian. In 2006 74.7 percent of the population spoke Cree. In 1978 the on-Reserve population in Pukatawagan was just under 1,000 people. By 1998 it was 1,743. Based on the population growth since 1995, the future population growth was estimated to be 2.5% per year.
The Mathias Colomb Cree Nation was originally part of the Pelican Narrows band, Saskatchewan. Pelican Narrows join Mirond and Pelican Lakes which lie between the Sturgeon-Weir and Churchill River systems. The Mathias Colomb band first settled along the Churchill River or Missinipi, meaning "big water" in Woodland Cree, settled along the Churchill River at Highrock Lake in the Prayer River area after their separation in 1910 from the Peter Ballantyne band. The Mathias Colomb Indian band, now Mathias Colomb Cree Nation, was formed as a separate reserve in 1910 and officially recognized by the Canadian federal government in 2011. In 1910, the inspector of Indian Affairs recognized Pukatawagan as a separate reserve with Mathias Colomb as the first chief of the reserve. He remained as chief until his death in 1932.
On 29 August 1926, Ayamihi Sippi (Prayer River) was surveyed as a reserve under the jurisdiction of the "Mathias Colomb Indian Band, over 18,000 acres of the 19,000 acre reserves is rock... Pakitawagan, the original fishing place of the people was also selected as one of the reserves." A fire destroyed the Prayer River community in the late 1960s and the band was forced to relocate to the Pukatawagan reserve."
Thirty-one-year-old, Arlen Dumas was elected in 2008 as Chief. He was inspired by his grandparents who brought him up on the land and who had instilled a love for community within him. His goal was to rebuild the Mathias Colomb Cree Nation (MCCN). He promised during his election campaign to get the band out of "co-management," where a third party outside accounting firm assigned by the federal government co-managed band affairs. Within four months Dumas and his council "developed a new governance structure, including transparent and accountable financial management systems, and were out of co-management."
Through a band scholarship Arlen attended Lakefield College, Ontario and excelled there. He then studied at Mount Allison University, Sackville, New Brunswick, majoring in political science and Canadian studies before returning home.
The Swampy Cree Tribal Council Incorporated is the Tribal Council affiliated with this First Nation. The Swampy Cree Tribal Council lists the Mathias Colomb Cree Nation and the Marcel Colomb First Nation with its head office in Lynn Lake, as Missinippi Cree.
In 2006 there were 369 private dwellings. In 2007 10 Winnipeg residents visited their first Indian reserve, Pukatawagan, and their essays were published in the Winnipeg Free Press. "They were shocked and appalled at the overcrowded living conditions. A severe housing shortage had as many as 25 people sharing a small house, eating and showering in shifts. The community had few amenities because a diesel spill caused by faulty equipment installed by Indian Affairs and Manitoba Hydro during the 1970s had contaminated the town centre, causing the band hall, nursing station, school and about 100 houses to be torn down. Violence, substance abuse and poverty prevailed in Puk for decades while the community argued with mainstream officials about who was responsible and who would pay for cleaning up the mess and rebuilding.
In his report, based on his visit to Pukatawagan and other First Nations and Inuit communities in Canada in October 2013, James Anaya, the UN’s special rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, reported that "The well-being gap between aboriginal and non-aboriginal people in Canada has not narrowed over the last several years, treaty and aboriginals claims remain persistently unresolved, and overall there appear to be high levels of distrust among aboriginal peoples toward government at both the federal and provincial levels. Canada consistently ranks near the top among countries with respect to human development standards, and yet amidst this wealth and prosperity, aboriginal people live in conditions akin to those in countries that rank much lower and in which poverty abounds. At least one in five aboriginal Canadians live in homes in need of serious repair, which are often also overcrowded and contaminated with mould."
James Anaya, the UN’s special rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples was deeply concerned by the suicide rate in aboriginal communities. He noted particularly that in Pukatawagan there has been a suicide (once) every six weeks since January 2013. Twenty-year-old Shawn Bighetty died of suicide in 2009 and his mother, Lorna Bighetty, a resident of Pukatawagan, "says something must be done to help her community, where poverty is prevalent. Since Shawn’s death, there have been as many as 27 more suicides at Pukatawagan, which is home to 2,500 residents."
In May 1997, the Treaty Land Entitlement Committee (TLEC) representing Mathias Colomb and 18 other Entitlement First Nations (EFNs), signed the Framework Agreement Treaty Land Entitlement with the province of Manitoba and the federal government of Canada, in which Canada and Manitoba agreed to "fulfil the acknowledged outstanding treaty land entitlement obligations for those 20 First Nations, satisfying the per capita land provisions of treaties signed by Canada and the First Nations between 1871 and 1910."
Pukatawagan has an airport in the town and the aboriginal-owned Missinippi Airways. The temporary winter road (Kississing Lake to Pukatawagan) is open for about three months of the year based on weather. There is an existing pioneer road (Provincial Trunk Highway 10 (PTH 10) to Sherridon). Like other small, remote northern communities, Mathias Colomb Cree Nation has no all-weather road access, although studies of its economic viability have been undertaken. The absence of an all-weather road imposes added freight and transportation costs on individuals, communities, government, and industry. The report examined the cost of the construction of an All-Weather Road from Provincial Trunk Highway 10 (PTH 10) to Pukatawagan and the benefits, if any, to all stakeholders: Pukatawagan First Nations, Sherridon Community, and Lynn Lake, Hudson Bay Railroad (HBRR), (Omnitrax), Freight Haulers, Air Transporters and Tolko Industries Ltd.
On 20 August 1997 the OmniTRAX-owned Hudson Bay Railway (HBRY) began operation, using former Canadian National Railway (CN) trackage that HBRY had purchased, covering more than 1,300 kilometres (810 mi) of trackage. The branch from The Pas with a branch to Flin Flon, MB, Pukatawagan First Nations, Sherridon Community and Lynn Lake. HudBay Minerals and Tolko are two of the major customers for HBRY.
Sakastew primary/secondary school, with an annual enrolment of 550 students, is community-operated. About 600 students attend school off the reserve.
Pukatawagan has a nursing station and a child and family services agency field office. Mathias Colomb First Nation Health Authority is affiliated with the Cree Nation Tribal Health Centre in The Pas which delivers culturally relevant health services to First Nation Communities in the Swampy Cree Tribal Council Region.
Missinippi Airways, with the official name of Beaver Air Services Limited Partnership, is 100% aboriginal owned and operates regular flights between The Pas and Pukatawagan. In 1988 the Mathias Colomb Cree Nation created the Missinippi Construction Company Ltd which is 100% aboriginal owned.
Subsistence hunting and fishing is augmented by some trapping and commercial fishing.