The website of the Neskantaga First Nation is now filled with video testimonies from some of its nearly 300 residents, to shine light on the fact that they have been evacuated for more than 40 days in the face of a water crisis.
“We have to be suffering to get clean water,” says a child in one of the video updates on the website.
The remote northwestern Ontario reserve has been under a boil water advisory for more than 25 years —the longest in Canada— two years after a newly constructed water treatment plant failed to provide clean drinking water. In October, an oily sheen believed to be hydrocarbons was discovered on the surface of the local water reservoir, leading to the evacuation of residents to a hotel in Thunder Bay.
Neskantaga Chief Chris Moonias has warned that the band’s water treatment plant reservoir keeps losing pressure due to a possible leak somewhere in the distribution system.
Moonias has been calling for an immediate investigation into business practices of contractors and engineering companies hired to fix problems with the reserve’s water supply, which he says have only got worse over the years.
The chief has also been calling out what he says is a lack of action to perform additional testing at the Neskantaga Water Treatment Plant.
“For the 6th straight day, the 14-day performance test for the upgraded water treatment plant cannot be performed due to various deficiencies,” Moonias posted on Twitter.
Upgrades to the plant were scheduled to be completed in 2018, but the project faced a string of delays and the work has yet to conclude.
According to Moonias, the reserve’s reverse-osmosis unit is also out of order, forcing those who stayed behind during the evacuation to haul water from the lake to do things like flush toilets as they work to prevent pipes from freezing.
Moonias had also called for an immediate independent investigation into the role of the regional director general and the Ontario region in the Neskantaga water crisis. In recent days, Indigenous Services Canada fulfilled the request and replaced Ontario regional director general Anne Scotton with assistant deputy minister Joanne Wilkinson as the liaison between department officials and Neskantaga.
Some of the evacuated First Nations youth held a rally in Thunder Bay last week, calling for action on the water crisis so they can finally go home.
Neskantaga is just one of more than 40 Indigenous communities without access to a drinkable water supply.