After 14 years, boil water advisory lifted for most in Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory

About 75 per cent of the more than 1,000 homes in Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory now have safe drinking water after 14 years under a boil water advisory, according to its chief.

Hundreds of people in community west of Kingston, Ont., still haven't been connected to safe drinking water

Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory is located on the Bay of Quinte in southeastern Ontario. (Michelle Allan/CBC)

For the past 14 years, Andrew Brant and many others on Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory have had to haul all their water to their homes one jug at a time. 

His arms, and those of most fellow residents, will get a well-deserved break as the southeastern Ontario First Nation west of Kingston lifted five long-term water advisories on March 28 as they expanded connections to a new water treatment plant.

The advisories had been in place since 2008. 

"It was nice being able to have a shower at whatever length I wanted," said Brant, who also owns a local organic coffee company and bakery. "It was nice to not get out of the shower smelling still… You get out smelling fresh and clean." 

Tyendinaga entrepreneur Andrew Brant says now that clean water is more readily available, he hopes to start a community garden in the field behind this water access station. (Michelle Allan/CBC)

Brant says lifting these water advisories has lifted a weight off the shoulders of the community, literally and figuratively.

"Accessibility to water has been the hugest thing for us when it comes to resources, when it comes to development," he said.

"We're able to do more things. We see different businesses thriving."

'Long period of neglect'

Chief R. Don Maracle said of the approximately 1,012 homes in the community, 786 have now been connected with safe drinking water.

"In Indigenous communities, there has been a long period of neglect to these issues … so the government has to spend millions of dollars to get caught up," said Maracle, who added he had to lobby hard to get the government to help build a $27.6 million water treatment plant.

For those who still can't access clean drinking water inside their homes, fill stations were installed on the territory with the opening of the treatment plant. Before those stations, residents had to travel off-reserve to purchase water in bulk.

Maracle said they continue to work to close the water access gap for that 25 per cent of households still without clean water. That advisory also dates back to 2008

Justice Brown continues to wait for clean drinking water on her property, which she hopes will make it easier for her to care for her toddler, the plants and animals on her Tyendinaga homestead. (Michelle Allan/CBC)

Justice Brown, a young mom living with her toddler on a homestead in Tyendinaga, has to travel for showers and water for the crops and three goats.

She hopes to connect to the water supply by the time the house she's building is completed but said it's difficult waiting for something as essential to human life as clean water, especially since there are municipalities just minutes down the road where access to clean water is a given. 

"I know it's coming. I'm just trying to have that patience and hold out hope … but it's definitely a struggle," she said.

Justice Brown says hauling these heavy jugs in by hand is strenuous. (Michelle Allan/CBC)

New deadline of 2025 to end all advisories

Tyendinaga is one of 20 First Nations in Ontario that still have federal long-term drinking water advisories in place, mostly in the northwest.

The federal government originally set a deadline to end all advisories by March 2021, which was one of Justin Trudeau's key election promises during the 2015 campaign. Now the government has set its sight to 2025.

As of March 2022, a total of 131 long-term drinking water advisories have been lifted and 34 remain throughout Canada, located in Ontario, Saskatchewan, and Alberta.

Most are in Ontario and Tyendinaga's is the furthest east.

"We can lament, you know, how long it took, but I think we have to celebrate the fact that these are milestone accomplishments," said Maracle this week.

He said Tyendinaga is expecting additional federal funding toward water, which the reserve plans to use to expand the water lines to cover the entire community. 

"I just hope that the need for safe drinking water will continue to be a high priority of the government of Canada," he said.