Area leaders continue advocacy for action to address Neskantaga First Nation water crisis
Tim Brody - Editor
Area leaders are continuing to advocate for action to address the water crisis in Neskantaga First Nation.
Nishnabwe Aski Nation Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler expressed support for Neskantaga First Nation members Lawrence Sakanee and Alex Moonias who journeyed to Queen’s Park last week along with Kiiwetinoong MPP Sol Mamakwa.
Neskantaga has not had safe drinking water since 1995 – the longest running boil water advisory in Canada.
“It is simply unacceptable that Neskantaga First Nation members were forced to evacuate 16 days ago, during a pandemic, because they do not have access to running water. Canada is known as one of the greatest countries in the world to live in, but the people of Neskantaga are being denied the basic human right of access to clean water,” Fiddler said in a Nov. 3 media release. “Treaty No. 9 and Treaty No. 5 represent the Nation-to-Nation relationship between the people of Nishnawbe Aski and the Crown. We fully support Chief Moonias, and we look to the governments of Ontario and Canada to honour the Treaties and provide the necessities of life to the people of Neskantaga.”
“Neskantaga declared a State of Emergency in October after a complete shutdown of their water system due to a contaminant. There is currently no running water in the community, including the temporary reverse osmosis system that the community has relied on for years as the only source of safe drinking water.
“Just after the evacuation, Chief and Council identified the minimum acceptable conditions for a safe return of community members who were forced to leave the community due to the immediate health threats from the lack of water. Continued and urgent action is required from both levels of government and all involved in the project,” NAN informed.
Mamakwa has written an open letter to Premier Doug Ford urging him to respond to the water crisis.
"For 25 years – an entire generation – Neskantaga has been without clean water, living under a boil water advisory. Then two weeks ago, dangerous hydrocarbons were found in the local water reservoir. Neskantaga went from having no clean water, to having no water at all – while also contending with the COVID-19 pandemic. The entire community was forced to evacuate," said Mamakwa in his letter to Ford.
Mamakwa says that the Ford government has a responsibility to honour treaties and respect Indigenous communities, starting with fixing Neskantaga's water.
"This abuse," Mamakwa added, "allows one standard of rights and living conditions for communities like Etobicoke North and next to no standard at all for First Nations communities like Neskantaga."
Kenora MP Eric Melillo also called for action to address the water crisis and a housing crisis in Cat Lake First Nation in the House of Commons.
Sioux Lookout First Nations Health Authority also expressed their support for Neskantaga First Nation last week.
SLFNHA shared in a media release, “SLFNHA strongly supports Neskantaga First Nation, their leadership, and community members during their rally today (Nov. 2) at Queens Park in Toronto. We stand with Neskantaga and demand immediate action from the Treaty 9 partners to ensure an immediate and sustainable solution is obtained.
“It is the position of the SLFNHA board and executive that the long-standing lack of access to clean water reflects Canada’s failure to ensure that basic human rights are provided to Indigenous people in this country. Neskantaga has been under a Boil Water Advisory for over 25 years giving the community the unfortunate distinction of being Canada’s longest-standing community with a boil water advisory.
“Access to clean drinking water is a social determinant of health impacting individuals health and wellbeing which is further exacerbated by the current COVID-19 pandemic. SLFNHA stands with Neskatanga as they have clearly articulated the necessary requirements needed before they can safely return their members back to the community.”
The Matawa First Nations also stated last week they stand in support of Neskantaga First Nation.
“The nine (9) First Nations making up the Matawa Chiefs Council today (Nov. 3) offered their support for Neskantaga First Nation as they experience another large blow to their water treatment and distribution system amid a 26-year lack of clean drinking water crisis and in a global pandemic. They offer their support for the extraordinary measures Neskantaga First Nation have had to take to ensure the safety of their citizens including an evacuation to Thunder Bay for the second time within the span of 12 months (first one in September 2019) due to unsafe drinking water, and this time, a complete water outage, in their community,” a news release from Matawa First Nations informed.
“A majority of the First Nations of the Matawa Chiefs Council, both road-access and remote, have experienced similar issues with regards to access to clean drinking water. With the exception of two (2) First Nations who have the opportunity to access municipal water treatment systems—all have experienced either ‘boil water’ or ‘do not consume’ advisories, for a lengthy period of time at some point in history,” the release further informed.
“Following the questions that have recently been raised in the provincial and federal legislatures with respect to the Neskantaga First Nation water crisis, Matawa Chiefs Council are concerned about the finger-pointing that has been taking place between current and previous governments and the seeming lack of role/responsibility of the Ontario government, now it as it celebrates it’s 5th Annual Ontario Treaties Week, and chronically throughout the years,” the release further stated.
“I support Neskantaga First Nation on their water crisis. Each of our remote communities experience water system defaults. Whenever that happens, there is outcry from the membership so we react to whatever costs are required which puts us in deep deficit because funding is not available and Indigenous Services Canada tells us to use whatever funding we have but we jeopardize our regular programing. It costs so much to bring in an experienced worker in our community including charters, equipment and labour. Our water and sewer systems are getting to be outdated because when something breaks, they tell us it’s not manufactured anymore so it has to be special ordered which takes time and money. Our facilities need to be upgraded. Our local workers work hard trying to maintain the system and they are underpaid,” stated Chief Cornelius Wabasse of Webequie First Nation
Neskantaga Chief Christopher Moonias shared in a news release of Mamakwa’s last week, “Our people are getting tired and frustrated. We are denied the basic human right of access to clean water. We fully support our members who have traveled to Queen’s Park to hold the Provincial Government responsible for their part in what our community is facing. Fix our water.”