It’s been 36 days since Neskantaga First Nation community members left their homes as part of an emergency evacuation, and northwestern Ontario youth are lending their voices to the call for action.
Neskantaga youth recently rallied at the Colliers Project Leaders Office in Thunder Bay over the inaction to address their current crisis, as well as the community’s lack of clean water since February of 1995, well-before they were even born.
Now, Lillian Berg Public School students in Vermilion Bay are joining the cause, and shared a short video of students expressing their support for the Neskantaga community.
“I support the people of Neskantaga First Nation because everyone deserves clean water. Water is sacred in Indigenous culture. The people of Neskantaga First Nation haven’t had water in 25 years. Having clean water is a human right. Indigenous people are human,” shared one student.
“I support the people of Neskantaga because there are kids who have never seen clean drinking water come from their taps, but I’ve never had to worry about it. It’s not fair. We all need to do our part to help these people.”
“I support the people of Neskantaga because has been a boil-water advisory for almost 26 years. It’s caused them to evacuate. People promised to fix this, but 26 years later, nothing has changed. Please fix this problem.”
“The resolve of my youth and nation gives me hope,” said Chief Chris Moonias, who shared Lillian Berg’s video on social media.
The federal government is expected to book every room in Thunder Bay’s Victoria Inn to continue to support roughly 250 Neskantaga members, and to help protect them from COVID-19 in the area.
Water testing on Neskantaga’s water system is expected to be completed on December 2, but there’s still no plan on when the community will be allowed to return home.
Their emergency evacuation began in October after dangerous hydrocarbons were detected in the community’s water system, shutting down their school and nursing station as well.
Kiiwetinoong MPP and Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation critic, Sol Mamakwa, has also held a protest at Queen’s Park over the issue, which was joined by community members who travelled over 1,100 km to Queen’s Park, as well as members over Zoom.
This isn’t the first evacuation due to water issues in Neskantaga, which holds the unfortunate record of having Canada’s longest lasting boil water advisory of over 25 years.
Community members were evacuated to Thunder Bay in September, 2019 after a failure at the water treatment plant, bringing unchlorinated water into the system.
In July of 2017, the federal government provided $8.8 million to upgrade Neskantaga’s water system, including an addition to the existing water plant. This followed numerous delays and failures since December of 2015.
Work on the plant was initially set to be completed by May of 2018, which got pushed back to March of 2019 due to disputes with the contractor. Indigenous Services Canada says they are now providing $16 million to complete work on the treatment plant over a year and a half later.
The community hasn’t had clean drinking water since February of 1995. Northwestern Ontario has the highest concentration of long-term boil water advisories across Canada.
For more information:
Mamakwa fights to ‘end a quarter century of neglect’ in Neskantaga
‘There’s no excuse,’ Melillo on Neskantaga crisis