Neskantaga Leadership Identifies Minimum Demands before Considering Returning Members to Community
Thunder Bay, ON: Neskantaga First Nation Chief Chris Moonias and members of Council have identified the minimum conditions they will accept before considering a return of their members who were forced to evacuate this week due to the immediate health threats from the remote community’s water system.
“I have sent these conditions to Indigenous Services Canada Minister and I expect a meaningful response and plan of action,” said Neskantaga First Nation Chief Chris Moonias. “The people of Neskantaga have suffered tremendously, and it is unacceptable that government officials have refused to recognize this as a health emergency. Our people need help now. We are First Peoples living in third-world conditions treated as second-class citizens in a supposedly rich country.”
Minimum Demands of Neskantaga First Nation Before Consideration of Repatriation to Community after Evacuation:
- Running water must be available from the taps on a 24-hour basis, even if a boil water advisory still exists, only as an interim solution;
- Two (2) portable membrane package water treatment units need to be immediately mobilized/installed in the community so that clean drinking water can be produced to mitigate the effects of the crisis, and before damage to the system from cold temperatures;
- Given that the current water treatment and distribution system has been a patchwork of ‘Band-Aid’ solutions since first being repaired (1994-present), government must commit and immediately move forward with examining the feasibility of continuing with repairing a flawed system versus the design and construction of a new water distribution system that meets the highest current standards;
- Undertaking an extensive certified plumbing survey is required immediately in all residences and unoccupied lots to assess and repair leaks and additional system loads.
- Decontamination of homes and associated repairs of water hardware (pipes, sinks, taps, faucets) in disrepair caused by the crisis;
- An immediate investigation into business practices of contractors, engineering companies, etc.; and
- An immediate investigation/evaluation of contributing factors to the current water and public health crisis.
Neskantaga declared a State of Emergency this week after the complete shutdown of their water system due to an unknown contaminant. There is currently no running water in the community, including the temporary reverse osmosis system the community has relied on for years as the only source of safe drinking water.
“In any other community in Canada the complete lack of running water would be recognized as a crisis, especially during a global pandemic,” said Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler. “Chief and Council are stretched to their limit to ensure the safety of their members. The federal government and everyone involved must work immediately with the leadership to meet these conditions so community members can repatriate as quickly as possible.”
There is currently no government support for the evacuation. On Wednesday, senior government officials from Indigenous Services Canada refused to acknowledge the severity of the situation and classify it as a public health crisis. Grand Chief Fiddler wrote to the Prime Minister urging that he immediately intervene.
Neskantaga has not had safe drinking water since 1995 – the longest running boil water advisory in Canada. A water treatment plant was constructed in 2016 but there have been numerous delays, equipment failures and related infrastructure failures. The system failed in 2019, and the long-standing boil water advisory was replaced with a Do Not Consume warning. Indigenous Services Canada refused to evacuate the community.
Neskantaga First Nation is a remote Oji-Cree community in Treaty No. 9 territory situated on the shores of Attawapiskat Lake in the District of Kenora, approximately 430 km northeast of Thunder Bay.
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