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Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Getting tap water a miracle

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RACHEL Mason witnessed the miracle of her son recovering from a head injury and a month-long coma.

It almost took another miracle to get her family the running water they need to look after the little boy.

Several months after moving back to St. Theresa Point, Mason's family was allocated one of the community's few homes set aside for people with medical needs. It has what every city dweller and even most residents of other northern reserves take for granted -- tap water.

For eight months, Mason had been stuck in a downtown Winnipeg apartment while Kieren, 6, came close to dying, then began speech and physical therapy.

She knew she faced a nearly impossible situation if she returned home -- trying, in a home with no taps or flush toilets, to look after four kids, including one child now seriously disabled. The rambunctious boy had been playing with friends in August 2009 when he climbed onto the top of a sport utility vehicle, slipped off and landed on his head.

"I want to take him home because he wants to go home," she said on her last day in Winnipeg. "I told my husband I want to go try it out."

Mason looked forward to living as a family again. When Kieren was sickest and both parents needed to be at his side in Winnipeg, the boy's oldest brother stayed with grandparents in Wasagamack so he could keep up his Oji-Cree language studies at school. By spring, two of the kids were with Mason in the city, while the other two were back home with her husband.

Mason used to have a job in St. Theresa Point before Kieren's accident.

"I can't go back to work," she said as she contemplated the complicated life ahead of her.

Without running water or a vehicle at home, her options for getting water were a five-minute walk with heavy buckets, calling neighbours for help or paying up to $15 for a taxi ride.

Mason's mother Emma Harper said lots of elders are stuck in Winnipeg or Thompson because of health problems doctors say make it unsafe for them to live without running water.

"Lots here in the city are lonesome to go home," said the teacher. "I think that's how people get sick more."

She sometimes has to call around for half an hour to find someone to help her when she runs out of water. Then there's all the extra time it takes to wash dishes, clothes and floors when you have to use water sparingly.

Younger relatives short of water for baby formula sometimes show up at her Wasagamack house after the 11 p.m. curfew, knowing she's likely to have water to spare because her husband has a truck for hauling. The same thing happens to those Island Lake families lucky enough to have gotten plumbing over the last few years during the first phase of government-funded upgrades.

"I think we'd have more time to do other things than the basics," if residents could just turn on a tap, Harper said.

Soon after little Kieren returned to St. Theresa Point, he visited his grandparents in nearby Wasagamack.

When Victor Harper got up early in the morning and saw the child waving his arms and legs in bed, he feared the boy was having a seizure.

Racing over, grandpa discovered the cause of the squirming was simple joy at being home. "I'm normal again," Kieren squealed.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 30, 2010 H11

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