Members and leadership with the Sioux Lookout First Nations Health Authority are standing with community members of Neskantaga First Nation, who have rallied and protested at Queen’s Park in Toronto.
Their protest, which was joined community members and Chief Chris Moonias over Zoom, as well as two members who drove over 1,100 km and Kiiwetinoong MPP Sol Mamakwa, comes as the community is facing over two weeks without any water in their area.
“We stand with Neskantaga and demand immediate action from the Treaty 9 partners to ensure an immediate and sustainable solution is obtained,” wrote staff, in a prepared statement.
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 also caused the shutdown of the community’s school and nursing station, which is especially vital in the fight against COVID-19.
“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.”
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.
“Access to clean drinking water is a social determinant of health impacting individuals health and well-being 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.”
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.
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.
For more information:
Neskantaga members protest at Queen’s Park
Water crisis causes evacuations in Neskantaga