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First Nation to cap 2 of 40 oil wells with federal funds

The federal government is paying to cap two leaking oil wells on a reserve on northeastern Manitoulin Island.

Wikwemikong Unceded Indian Reserve has sought government aid to fix 40 wells for years

Wikwemikong Unceded Indian Reserve say it's a start 4:05

The federal government is paying to cap two leaking oil wells on a reserve on Manitoulin Island in Ontario.

Officials with the Wikwemikong Unceded Indian Reserve say it's a start, but more must be done to protect the community's water source.

The wells are two of about 40 abandoned drilled wells scattered across the reserve that were constructed from the 1860s to the 1950s.

Andrew "Stitch" Manitowabi says the Wikwemikong First Nation has its own evaporator for sap. (Yvon Theriault/Radio-Canada)

Project manager Stitch Manitowabi said the government is allowing $200,000 for the work, but “the remediation still hasn't been fully discussed.”

Manitowabi said the pipes that will be capped are in areas where water flows down to Lake Huron, the community's water source.

“The natural watershed area for our community's drinking source [is] in the bay. We're right in the heart of the oil field, so the contamination can eventually reach our drinking water supply for our community.”

Eugene Kimewon remembers fetching oil from the leaky pipe on his family's property when he was a child. (Yvon Theriault/CBC)

Wikwemikong resident Eugene Kimewon, 56, said he remembers fetching oil from the leaky pipe on his family's property when he was a child.

“[There were] pools [of oil] around outside of the pipe,” he said.

“[You’d] see it there and sometimes you can't go closer, because if you go closer you're just going to sink down.”

Chief Duke Peltier said the community is about to start testing its water for hydrocarbons — but he said one can't put a dollar amount on protecting drinking water.

Wikwemikong Unceded Indian Reserve Chief Duke Peltier says capping the oil wells will assure the community about the safety of its water supply. (Yvon Theriault/CBC)

“It just needs to get done at whatever cost,” he said.

Indian Oil and Gas Canada said maintaining environmental standards at Wikwemikong are a priority of the Government of Canada, and the federal agency will work closely with the community to ensure they're involved in the process.

The Wikwemikong Unceded Indian Reserve has been asking the government for financial help for years.

Manitowabi said he'd like to see some more wells capped and some environmental remediation done in the coming year.

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