Manitoba

Boil-water advisory: ‘Gotta learn to live with it’ FN chief says

Winnipeggers dealing with a city-wide boil-water advisory for the first time in the city’s history are getting a taste of what it’s like to live on one of Manitoba’s First Nations.

Gods Lake Narrows First Nation, six other First Nations deal with chronic water issues

Winnipeggers dealing with a city-wide boil-water advisory for the first time in the city’s history are getting a taste of what it’s like to live on one of Manitoba’s First Nations. CBC's Gosia Sawicka reports. 2:00

Winnipeggers dealing with a city-wide boil-water advisory for the first time in the city’s history are getting a taste of what it’s like to live on one of Manitoba’s First Nations.

Winnipeg was hit with a city-wide boil-water advisory Tuesday night – sending people into bottled-water-buying frenzies and shuttering a number of businesses.

But boil-water advisories are nothing new for many places in Manitoba.

On Wednesday, at least seven First Nations are currently were under boil water advisories, and many of them have dealt with the advisories for years.

God’s Lake Narrows First Nation has had chronic problems with its water.

“It's a common experience we go through up in our northern community,” said Chief Gilbert Andrews on a visit to Winnipeg Wednesday. “Now, people here in the urban setting know what we people in a remote isolated northern community have to go through without the proper infrastructure in place.”

Andrews said the First Nation, which has about 1,500 people, has a broken water system that requires 24-7 staffing.

The cost to fix it is $250,000, money Andrews said the community doesn’t have.

"A while back, say about 10 years back, we didn't have any boil water advisories.  Our lake was pristine and clear of ... contamination," said Andrews. "In the last couple of years, I've noticed that our lake has turned colour ... They say the hydro dams don't affect our lake but it does."

On Wednesday, another 79 communities in Manitoba were under boil water advisories or drinking water avoidance advisories. Those included everything from towns such as Pine Falls to campgrounds and trailer parks.

Garden Hill resident Gabby Munroe was in Winnipeg Wednesday for a doctor’s appointment with his wife.

 “It’s no big deal,” he said. “When something happens in Winnipeg, it’s a big panic for people because they’ve never faced this thing before, but people in the communities, First Nations, have had to live with these situations.”

Andrews agrees.

"[You] gotta learn to live with it. That's what we go through everyday, and we get used to it," said Andrews. "Our people have always survived these kinds of things."

Andrews said it comes down to funding for First Nations.

“Our community is an isolated community. Being that, we hardly get any services, and when our infrastructure needs repairs, it’s hard to get the expert people and to get the parts into our community to fix the problems,” he said. “Funding being very limited, it’s hard to keep our systems going on a regular [basis.] We've tried to make repairs but the funding is just not there to purchase the parts that we need.”

Shoal Lake 40 First Nation provides drinking water to Winnipeg, but the community itself has been without potable water for more than a decade.

When the infrastructure was built to move water from Shoal Lake to Winnipeg, the Ontario First Nation was cut off from the mainland, making it extremely costly and difficult for the community to build a water treatment plant.

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