Neskantaga First Nation demands action on 20-year boil-water advisory

Neskantaga First Nation in northern Ontario is demanding that all federal parties make First Nations health an election issue.

Federal candidates must address First Nations health as election issue, chief says

Neskantaga First Nation calls for action on health conditions

8 years ago
Duration 2:32
First Nations have had enough of the boil-water advisory they've been living under for two decades

The Neskantaga First Nation in northern Ontario is demanding that all federal parties make First Nations health an election issue. 

The fly-in community in the James Bay lowlands has the longest-standing boil-water advisory in the country — more than 20 years. More than 300 people have been forced to live under a boil water advisory since 1995.  

Chief Wayne Moonias took to a podium on Monday in Toronto at the Waakebenis Bryce Institute for Indigenous Health to highlight what he described as unacceptable living conditions. 

"We are calling on the government to be aware of this. We need action. We need resolution as to how [and] why this is continuing today in our community," Moonias said. 

The chief wants the next prime minister to personally deal with the issue.

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"Our people in this community, Neskantaga — yes, we are only 350 people but we are still human beings," Moonias said.

'Lack of political will'

According to federal and provincial figures there are more than 160 water advisories in nearly 120 First Nations across the Canada.

"The clean water crisis is caused by a lack of political will in Ottawa,' Moonias said.

Isadore Day, chair of the Assembly of First Nations health committee, says the federal election has been focused on issues such as the niqab instead of life-threatening problems on reserves.

"We're seeing a debate nationally about whether a person should wear a piece of clothing, yet our First Nations communities are dying because of the poor water conditions in their communities," Day said.

Day said the New Democratic and Liberal party leaders have indicated they want to work with aboriginal leaders to solve the water crisis, but he has not received a response from the Conservatives.

Still no solution for Neskantaga

A water treatment plant was built in Neskantaga in 1993, Moonias said, but there were problems almost immediately. 

The chief of Neskantaga First Nation says the majority of children on his reserve have sores such as these on their bodies. (submitted )

"Back in 1993 when it was built … after a year or so it was deemed unable to produce proper drinking water. Now it's 2015 and we are still dealing with that issue."

Leaders say the majority of children living in Neskantaga have sores that continue to multiply, but with limited access to doctors and nurses it's impossible to get proper diagnosis.

Earlier this year CBC News learned the federal government has spent more than $1 million on bottled water for the community. Around the same time Moonias learned Neskantaga is No. 19 on the government's priority list for water plant upgrades, dropping from fourth on that list in previous years.

Moonias says it would cost $8 million to design and build a new water-treatment plant in the community.

With files from Carla Turner.