Thunder Bay

Bad water: Northern Ontario First Nations push for a fix

The majority of First Nations in northern Ontario have experienced a boil water advisory in the last decade, a CBC News investigation revealed.

70 First Nations in northern Ontario have had a boil water advisory at some time in the last decade

Neskantaga Chief Wayne Moonias says 20 years is too long to wait to solve the drinking water problems in his northern Ontario First Nation. (Jody Porter/CBC)

The majority of First Nations in northern Ontario has experienced a boil water advisory in the last decade, a CBC News investigation revealed.

The longest running water advisory is Neskantaga First Nation in Ontario, where residents have been boiling their water for 20 years. Ten other First Nations in northern Ontario have spent more than 10 years without safe drinking water.

Many chiefs are saying they cannot wait any longer for the problems to be fixed.

"We need a commitment, we need action that's going to allow this issue to be resolved, so our people can enjoy getting water from their taps in their homes. That's what we're asking it's a basic human right," Neskantaga Chief Wayne Moonias told CBC News on Wednesday. 

Moonias was part of a news conference highlighting the responses chiefs from nine First Nations had received to a survey of federal election candidates. The chiefs wanted to know where politicians stand on issues such as safe drinking water.

"Twenty years under a boil water advisory "is not a good record for Neskantaga to be recognized by... and it's because of the lack of action that has been made by the government to try to address these issues to work with us," Moonias said. 

"How long are we going to wait for this thing to be resolved?" he asked. "We heard one party say five years. That's too long. It needs to be fixed immediately."

Marten Falls Chief Bruce Achneepineskum says more than $2 million dollars has been spent on bottled water in his community since a boil water advisory was put in place in 2006. (Jody Porter/CBC)

The chief of Marten Falls First Nation also blames a "lack of commitment" for a boil water advisory in place since 2006 in his community.

Bruce Achneepineskum said in that time the government has spent more than two million dollars on bottled water for community members, about half the price of a new water treatment plant, he said.

"We're talking about people that live on the edge of poverty and it's really hard for them" to have to travel several kilometres to the airport and haul bottled water back home, Achneepineskum said.

Nishnawbe Aski Nation Deputy Grand Chief Terry Waboose says 35 of 49 NAN communities currently don't have safe drinking water. (Jody Porter/CBC)

The Nishnawbe Aski Nation said 35 of its 49 member communities do not currently have safe drinking water.

"It's abysmal, it's awful, not right, and just shows the poor state of our communities due to the neglect of our treaty partners, the federal and provincial government," Nishnawbe Aski Nation deputy grand chief Terry Waboose said.

Waboose said an annual government investment in water and sewage infrastructure, rather than the current piecemeal funding model would improve the situation.

Search water advisories across Canada