Residents of a remote northern Ontario First Nation are in crisis mode after the community's drinking water was contaminated because of broken pipes, forcing officials to shut down the school and fly in bottled water.

Photos shared on social media show discoloured water that has come out of taps on the Weagamow First Nation, also known as North Caribou Lake First Nation.

"All last week there was no school," Chief Dinah Kanate said. "We closed down for the whole week.... There's no water in the community." 

Bottled water for 2 more weeks

The problem stems from four ruptures that were found in pipes that carry water from a treatment facility to homes, according to Kanate. The pump from the water plant itself is also broken, she said.

The federal government said it is working on the problem.

"The water system leak has now been isolated and work is underway to restore water service as quickly as possible," read a statement from Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada. However, Liberal MP Robert Nault told the Canadian Press that the community could be without water for two weeks. 

Nishnawbe-Aski Nation (NAN), a political organization representing First Nations in northwestern Ontario, has been delivering bottled water to the community since Nov. 8. A total of 800 cases of water have been shipped so far.

A spokesperson from Nishnawbe-Aski Nation said the water-treatment facility was built in the 1990s and had been operating over capacity, with limited human resources for maintenance and repairs. 

Weagamow bad water

A photo shows discoloured water from taps on the Weagamow First Nation in northern Ontario. (James Benson/Facebook)

The Liberal government has vowed to end water problems in First Nation communities within five years and recently announced that $4 million has been earmarked to fix water systems in northern Ontario — though Kanate remains skeptical.

"Right now, the way our situation is, I haven't seen anything," Kanate said.  

Children with rashes

Some people in the community of 900 are also reporting an outbreak of skin rashes among children. 

Julie Kenequanash, who has two children, said a rash broke out on her eight-year-old son's face after he took a shower. A doctor has prescribed an antibiotic to treat it.

"He doesn't want to take a shower," said Kenequanash. "We've been living on boiled water and bottled water."

Her 17-year-old son accidentally drank a cup of tap water two days ago and is now complaining of a sore tongue. 

According to the INAC website, there are 139 First Nations under boil-water advisories; 35 of those communities are represented by NAN.


  • An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that the Department of Indigenous and Northern Affairs said the First Nation would be without water for two weeks. In fact, it was Liberal MP Robert Nault who made the statement.
    Nov 15, 2016 11:55 AM ET