MARTEN FALLS FIRST NATION – Pallets of bottled water have resumed their flow to Marten Falls First Nation but its MP says the conditions that caused the remote community to run dry throughout October persist.
Marten Falls has been under a boil-water advisory since Health Canada deemed its water treatment plant obsolete in 2005.
For the last decade, the band has been paying for bottled water to be flown in and then reimbursed by Indigenous and Northern Affairs.
Chief Bruce Achneepineskum has described the reimbursement process as taking between six and seven months so his community has been borrowing money from programs and services to pay for its water.
That cycle ran dry six weeks ago but the First Nation has struck a deal with Northstar Air to bring in 700 cases of water on credit.
Achneepineskum said the deal is a temporary fix but the structural funding problem means it’s only a matter of time until Marten Falls finds itself back in the same situation.
“I’m of the impression that sooner or later, we’ll run into the same situation again where we’ll have a cash crunch with the finances and bottled water in the community,” Achneepineskum said.
The First Nation submitted a Design Application Request for a new plant in 2013-2014 but no further progress has been made. Poor weather prevented Indigenous Affairs officials from landing in Marten Falls on Nov. 5 and no next meeting is scheduled.
MP Charlie Angus (NDP, Timmins-James Bay) has arranged a meeting with Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett next week to address a long-term fix for the community’s water treatment plant.
Angus is optimistic about the new Liberal government in Ottawa and its promises to end boil-water advisories in First Nations within five years.
“Five years, that’s a tall order but if it’s going to be done anywhere, it has to be done in Marten Falls. I think the time the community has waited, the enormous and insane cost of millions of dollars in bottled water being flown in rather than fixing the problem,” Angus said.
“It’s in the centre of the Ring of Fire and everybody talks about how the Ring of fire is going to bring prosperity for Thunder Bay, for Timmins, for Sudbury and here, the people at the centre of this are living in fourth world water conditions.”
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