Sixteen First Nations in the riding of Kenora have no access to clean water. What is the federal government doing about it?
THUNDER BAY — On September 12, a pump at the water facility on Neskantaga First Nation broke, plunging the community — which has been under a boil-water advisory since 1994, longer than any other community in the country — into crisis. The supply slowed to a trickle; in some homes, it stopped entirely. The unchlorinated water that did flow was, according to residents, unsafe even for bathing: residents reported headaches, stomach problems, and rashes after contact.
Two days later, the chief and council declared a state of emergency and organized an air evacuation of 219 residents to Thunder Bay, 450 kilometres to the west. “We had to [evacuate] because people were mostly scared.
They’re traumatized already from the water,“ said Neskantaga councillor Allan Moonias. “Mostly everyone in Neskantaga has an illness, and that’s coming from the water. That’s what people have to understand: it’s the water causing our illness.”
Even in Thunder Bay, some evacuated residents avoided the tap water. “My son is 23 years old, and he has never drank water from the tap. He has kids of his own now. He still lives like that today,” says resident Jennifer Sakanee. “There was this jug of water on the table for us to drink. No one has touched it, because it wasn’t bottled water. We’re already mentally programmed like that.”
The evacuation has highlighted an issue many feel should be central to the federal-election campaign: access to clean drinking water in First Nations. During the 2015 campaign, Justin Trudeau promised to bring an end to all 105 long-term boil-water advisories then in place across the country. His government’s first budget allocated nearly $1.9 billion toward the goal, and 87 have since been lifted.
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