Thunder Bay

'Please help us!' Evacuation of elderly, latest in decades-long water crisis in Neskantaga First Nation

Neskantaga First Nation, home to Canada's longest standing boil water advisory, is facing a new water crisis, prompting an evacuation of vulnerable residents from the remote community in northwestern Ontario.

Remote community with longest standing boil water advisory in Canada discovers new problem

Neskantaga First Nation in northwestern Ontario has been without safe drinking water for 26 years. (Christina Jung/CBC)

Neskantaga First Nation, home to Canada's longest standing boil water advisory, is facing a new water crisis prompting the evacuation of vulnerable residents from the community.

The remote First Nation in northwestern Ontario has been without safe drinking water for 26 years. A new water plant was expected to be up and running in 2019, but has faced on-going problems and is not yet fully functioning.

Chief Chris Moonias said this week an "oily sheen" was discovered on the surface of the water in the reservoir, resulting in the complete shut-down of all water services in the community on Oct. 19.

"That means our most vulnerable people, elders, infants and [people with] chronic illness are going to be without water," Moonias told Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller during a virtual chiefs meeting on Tuesday. "This is a state of emergency."

It could take up to 10 days to get the results of water samples taken in Neskantaga on Monday, according to Moonias, who is asking Minister Miller to support an evacuation of the community.

"Please help us! Get our people, get them out to safety!," he said.

Government officials were scheduled to meet on Tuesday afternoon to determine how best to help, including speeding up the testing results, Miller said. 

But Moonias said the community couldn't wait for the outcome of that meeting before scheduling the first flight out for vulnerable residents at 6:30 p.m.

The oily sheen is not the only problem with the water in Neskantaga, Moonias said. Since Oct. 8, water service to homes was being shut down overnight because of low levels in the water reservoir.

'Vulnerable to fire'

"This leaves us vulnerable to fire, with no fire protection and lack of potable water." he said. "Of course we can't drink it, but before we could at least use it to do our laundry and bathe in it."

Miller said he understands the chief's frustration and hopes the new water plant, promised by the Liberals in 2016, will soon be fully operational and a "source of pride" in Neskantaga.

It's not the first time the First Nation has been evacuated because of water problems. Last September nearly everyone left the community when the water pump in the new plant failed.

"It's very frustrating to live like this for the past 25, 26 years," Moonias said. "My daughter, 23 years old has never had clean drinking water."

Class action suit

Neskantaga First Nation is one of the plaintiffs, along with Curve Lake First Nation in southern Ontario, in a class action suit against the federal government over boil water advisories.

Retired Justice Harry Laforme is working as a lawyer with the First Nations involved in the suit. In his presentation to Nishnawbe Aski Chiefs on Tuesday he said it has already been certified.

The class action seeks damages and compensation for communities and individuals who have suffered the indignities and hardships of boil water advisories, Laforme said.

 

 

 

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