Community members of northwestern Ontario’s Neskantaga First Nation are protesting at Queen’s Park, after 25 years of promises from the federal government and a lack of action.
Kiiwetinoong MPP Sol Mamakwa hosted community members Lawrence Sakanee and Alex Moonis, who travelled over 1,100 km to Queen’s Park, as well as Chief Chris Moonis, Renita Moonis and Marilyn Waswa over Zoom, to call for a plan to return clean water to Neskantaga.
"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 travelled to Queen’s Park to hold the Provincial Government responsible for their part in what our community is facing. Fix our water,” said Chief Moonias.
Last month, Neskantaga’s water treatment plant had to be shut down after an ‘oily sheen’ was found in the water reservoir, which turned out to be dangerous hydrocarbons. This has caused the shutdown of the community’s school and nursing station, which is especially vital in the fight against COVID-19.
“Water is a basic human right, but the Ford government keeps ignoring the apartheid system of clean water access for First Nations people in Ontario,” said Mamakwa, who took two bottles of dirty water from the community to show fellow MP’s at Queen’s Park.
“Every Ontarian knows Doug Ford would never neglect and dismiss a community like Etobicoke North this way. Every day Doug Ford does nothing to fix this crisis is another day he makes the shameful choice to put the health and lives of Neskantaga’s community members at risk.”
Over 200 children, elders and vulnerable community members have since been staying in Thunder Bay hotels, and there is no plan yet for when residents are able to return to their homes.
"On January 9, we needed to bathe, so I went to get water at the water treatment facility with my two youngest children, who are 7 and 9. When we returned, my 7 year old found her sister in the closet. She had taken her life,” shared Marilyn Waswa.
“Now, my youngest are 11 and 15. I don’t know what answers to give them anymore. The water crisis reminds me every day how I lost my child and will never see her again. We need clean water.”
Nishnawbe Aski Nation Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler has written a letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau asking for additional supports in the emergency situation. Indigenous Services Canada has committed funding to evacuate residents and pay for bottle water.
"I have two children, who are 1 and 3. It is painful to keep going through this, for me and for them. I don’t want them to grow up without clean drinking water. I don’t want them to have to bathe in the dangerous water back home. They deserve clean water. All the children in Neskantaga deserve clean water,” said Renita Moonis.
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.
Neskantaga First Nation is located northeast of Thunder Bay, is only accessible by air or by ice road, and consists of just under 400 community members.