First Nations’ water plight needs action: chiefs

Leaders upset by Ottawa's response

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They didn't want to create a stink and now aboriginal chiefs and residents at the Island Lake First Nations will live with stink for another year.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 23/04/2011 (4135 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

They didn’t want to create a stink and now aboriginal chiefs and residents at the Island Lake First Nations will live with stink for another year.

The chiefs at the four remote aboriginal communities, which make up the area located about 600 kilometres northeast of Winnipeg, admitted at a press conference on Thursday they purposely decided to work with the federal government instead of publicly criticizing them in the wake of last year’s award-winning Free Press investigation into the lack of clean running water on First Nations.

Now, they admit after taking that approach, Indian and Northern Affairs Canada shortchanged them and only sent them hundreds of water barrels and slop pails, and one water truck and one sewage truck for each of the four reserves, instead of a total of 28 trucks, garages to store them in, seven washroom units, and four laundromat units.

Ruth Bonneville / Winnipeg Free Press St. Theresa Point First Nation Chief David McDougall is disappointed by INAC's offering of slop pails to serve as toilets.

“We tried to be accommodating with them and be positive,” said St. Theresa Point Chief David McDougall.

“I was trying to establish a meaningful relationship. We should be working together.

“The response by INAC will not alleviate the third-world living conditions of our communities, but instead INAC is effectively condoning and perpetuating such tragic conditions.”

McDougall said he was also upset about the response to the issue from the Harper government.

“The Conservative government response through the Minister of Indian and Northern Affairs Canada demonstrates lack of commitment and sensitivity to the prevailing deplorable and squalor living conditions of the people in Island Lake,” he said.

The chiefs of St. Theresa Point, Garden Hill First Nation, Wasagamack First Nation, and Red Sucker Lake First Nation said when they met with INAC last December they proposed $8 million worth of water and sewage materials be rushed over the winter roads to their communities earlier this year.

Instead, they said what they got tallied only about $1 million.

But INAC spokesman Jeff Solmundson said that what has been sent to the communities is only a first step to address a huge problem.

“These are not meant to be long-term solutions,” Solmundson said.

“We are still working with them on longer-term solutions. The trucks and barrels are not the first or last things to address the solutions.”

Solmundson said since 2006, the federal government has invested a total of $41 million to improve drinking water at the four Island Lake communities, including $26.7 million for pipe water distribution and sewage at Garden Hill and $9 million for a water treatment plant at Red Sucker Lake.

“We haven’t ruled anything out,” he said.

Garden Hill Chief Dino Flett said, “slop pails are not acceptable for our community, our children, our people, or our elders.

“We are overcrowded so 15 people will be in a house with one slop pail. It’s not safe for 15 people to use a slop pail. It is not acceptable.”

Wasagamack Chief Alex McDougall said 150 of the 250 homes at his reserve have no water or sewage services and another 200 homes are needed to alleviate overcrowding.

McDougall said getting only slop pails and water barrels “is an extreme health risk, especially for the vulnerable.”

kevin.rollason@freepress.mb.ca

Kevin Rollason

Kevin Rollason
Reporter

Kevin Rollason is one of the more versatile reporters at the Winnipeg Free Press. Whether it is covering city hall, the law courts, or general reporting, Rollason can be counted on to not only answer the 5 Ws — Who, What, When, Where and Why — but to do it in an interesting and accessible way for readers.

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