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Working for Change

Price tag for running water, toilets $29M

By Mary Agnes Welch 5 minute read Tuesday, Dec. 20, 2011

It would cost $29 million -- about one-tenth the price of Winnipeg's new state-of-the-art water treatment plant -- to provide running water and flush toilets to thousands of northern Manitobans living in Third World conditions.

A just-completed community assessment by the Island Lake Tribal Council reports there are about 950 homes on the region's four remote reserves where residents use slop pails or latrines instead of modern toilets.

The figure is starker than the original estimate, which pegged the number at about 800.

More than 1,000 homes need renovations to rough-in plumbing and install taps and toilets in rudimentary washrooms where slop pails and basins now sit. Or, the houses need new additions built to accommodate sinks, tubs and toilets. Most of those homes also need electrical upgrades to run a hot water tank.

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Feds, province agree to bring running water to Island Lake

By Mia Rabson 3 minute read Preview

Feds, province agree to bring running water to Island Lake

By Mia Rabson 3 minute read Saturday, Dec. 17, 2011

OTTAWA -- The provincial and federal governments agreed Friday to a joint program to give running water to homes in the Island Lake region of Manitoba.

However, there is still no dollar figure attached nor a timeline for completing the project.

Manitoba Aboriginal Affairs Minister Eric Robinson and federal Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Duncan met in Ottawa on Friday, mainly to discuss the Island Lake water crisis and hammer out a plan to fix it together.

"It was one of the most productive meetings I have had with the federal government in a long time," said Robinson.

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Saturday, Dec. 17, 2011

OTTAWA -- The provincial and federal governments agreed Friday to a joint program to give running water to homes in the Island Lake region of Manitoba.

However, there is still no dollar figure attached nor a timeline for completing the project.

Manitoba Aboriginal Affairs Minister Eric Robinson and federal Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Duncan met in Ottawa on Friday, mainly to discuss the Island Lake water crisis and hammer out a plan to fix it together.

"It was one of the most productive meetings I have had with the federal government in a long time," said Robinson.

Ottawa pledges funding to Island Lake

No Running Water 4 minute read Preview

Ottawa pledges funding to Island Lake

No Running Water 4 minute read Friday, Dec. 16, 2011

OTTAWA -- One hundred homes in Island Lake will get indoor taps and toilets in 2012 as part of a new federal commitment to the remote Manitoba region.

The retrofits are part of the first instalment of $5.5 million promised by Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Duncan toward ensuring everyone in the four reserves that make up Island Lake gets access to clean, running water.

The funding will also be used to buy four new water trucks, five new sewage trucks and materials to build garages to store them.

More than half the homes in the four communities -- Garden Hill, St. Theresa Point, Wasagamack and Red Sucker Lake -- have no indoor plumbing. It means several thousand people rely on water toted in pails from community water pipes and local lakes, sometimes walking several kilometres with buckets.

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Friday, Dec. 16, 2011

JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS ARCHIVES
A man hauls lake water at Red Sucker Lake First Nation. Ottawa and aboriginal leaders are hoping such scenes become less common in northern communities.

Public shock, anger over issue evaporate

By Mary Agnes Welch 5 minute read Preview

Public shock, anger over issue evaporate

By Mary Agnes Welch 5 minute read Saturday, Nov. 5, 2011

WHERE’S the outrage?

It’s been a year since the Winnipeg Free Press first highlighted the damage to health and human dignity caused by the lack of running water in 1,400 First Nations homes. The series of stories spawned hundreds of emails, online comments and letters to the editor, many asking what action average people could take to solve the problem.

But since then, a small handful of advocacy campaigns have largely failed to galvanize public opinion, few charitable organizations have stepped up to tackle the problem and the federal government is under no sustained pressure to provide essential services to First Nations mired in Third World conditions

“All that energy and public attention just dissipated,” said Laurel Gardiner, director of the Manitoba office of the Frontiers Foundation, an aboriginal charitable agency that’s piloting a home retrofit program in Island Lake.

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Saturday, Nov. 5, 2011

WHERE’S the outrage?

It’s been a year since the Winnipeg Free Press first highlighted the damage to health and human dignity caused by the lack of running water in 1,400 First Nations homes. The series of stories spawned hundreds of emails, online comments and letters to the editor, many asking what action average people could take to solve the problem.

But since then, a small handful of advocacy campaigns have largely failed to galvanize public opinion, few charitable organizations have stepped up to tackle the problem and the federal government is under no sustained pressure to provide essential services to First Nations mired in Third World conditions

“All that energy and public attention just dissipated,” said Laurel Gardiner, director of the Manitoba office of the Frontiers Foundation, an aboriginal charitable agency that’s piloting a home retrofit program in Island Lake.

Dutch device may fix water problems

By Mary Agnes Welch 4 minute read Preview

Dutch device may fix water problems

By Mary Agnes Welch 4 minute read Saturday, Nov. 5, 2011

A new water-treatment system the size of a big fridge could be the answer to First Nations' water woes.

The Manitoba government just flipped the switch last week on a pilot project in Seymourville near Hollow Water First Nation on the banks of Lake Winnipeg. The province is testing a Dutch-made water-treatment system that uses new membrane technology instead of chemicals to treat drinking water. It's dramatically cheaper than traditional plants, requires far less maintenance and can be installed in a matter of hours. The technology is already commonly used in places like Haiti and Panama and even near Thunder Bay.

Consultant Tom Klos, who pitched the project to the province over the summer, says it could also easily be used in First Nations where thousands of people don't have indoor plumbing and where 16 aging water-treatment plants were recently rated a "high risk" to human health.

"We can solve their problems right away," said Klos, who first learned about the treatment system while working overseas as part of the Dutch diplomatic corps. "When you see this machine, you think, 'Is that all?' Yup, that's all."

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Saturday, Nov. 5, 2011

WAYNE GLOWACKI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS ARCHIVES
Hollow Water First Nation could see a solution to its water problems develop in the nearby community of Seymourville.

Lottery for a life

By Mary Agnes Welch 7 minute read Preview

Lottery for a life

By Mary Agnes Welch 7 minute read Saturday, Nov. 5, 2011

ST. THERESA POINT -- Zach Harper waited 75 years for a house with running water and a flush toilet.

One week after Harper got it, he died.

Asked last year whether he believed the federal government would ever fund proper plumbing for him, the widower was skeptical.

"He'll ask God that question," said his son-in-law Geordie Rae, translating the elder's Oji-Cree.

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Saturday, Nov. 5, 2011

Zach Harper waited 75 years to live in a house with running water. He died a week after his family home at St. Theresa Point First Nation was retrofitted to include running water, a kitchen sink and a proper bathroom.

First Nations to alert UN to water woes

By Mia Rabson 3 minute read Preview

First Nations to alert UN to water woes

By Mia Rabson 3 minute read Wednesday, Feb. 16, 2011

OTTAWA -- First Nations leaders from northern Manitoba are taking their water crisis to the United Nations.

Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak Grand Chief David Harper told a Senate committee hearing Tuesday the lack of running water in more than 1,000 homes in northern Manitoba is a violation of the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous People.

MKO plans to ask the UN to investigate the violations of rights imposed by the lack of water.

"How many more people in northern Manitoba First Nations must get sick with the flu or other diseases just because they can't wash their hands before the government of Canada will take action?" Harper asked the senators at the committee.

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Wednesday, Feb. 16, 2011

Joe Bryksa / winnipeg free press archives
A child runs past a makeshift toilet in a house in Garden Hill First Nation.

Share the wealth, grand chief says

By Helen Fallding 4 minute read Preview

Share the wealth, grand chief says

By Helen Fallding 4 minute read Monday, Jan. 17, 2011

The people of Island Lake are not asking for handouts to help get running water into their homes, Northern Manitoba Grand Chief David Harper told a public meeting organized Friday night to explore whether the Mennonite Central Committee could help.

"In Manitoba alone, $3 billion is extracted every year from our lands, waters, our natural resources. All we're asking is to share the wealth, to go back to the treaties... We simply are asking the general public, the government, to acknowledge that there is a covenant."

Peter Rempel, executive director of the Mennonite Central Committee that organized the Just Water event, said after the meeting that the concept of a sacred covenant "really resonates with Christians."

"The people who signed the treaties on behalf of the Canadian government, I think, must have signed them out of some sense of understanding that this was also under God."

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Monday, Jan. 17, 2011

The people of Island Lake are not asking for handouts to help get running water into their homes, Northern Manitoba Grand Chief David Harper told a public meeting organized Friday night to explore whether the Mennonite Central Committee could help.

"In Manitoba alone, $3 billion is extracted every year from our lands, waters, our natural resources. All we're asking is to share the wealth, to go back to the treaties... We simply are asking the general public, the government, to acknowledge that there is a covenant."

Peter Rempel, executive director of the Mennonite Central Committee that organized the Just Water event, said after the meeting that the concept of a sacred covenant "really resonates with Christians."

"The people who signed the treaties on behalf of the Canadian government, I think, must have signed them out of some sense of understanding that this was also under God."

A Manitoba solution?

By Mia Rabson 4 minute read Preview

A Manitoba solution?

By Mia Rabson 4 minute read Friday, Dec. 17, 2010

OTTAWA -- The Manitoba government is willing to consider a partnership with Ottawa to get clean drinking water piped into homes on northern Manitoba reserves.

Chiefs heading communities where more than 1,400 homes have no running water are urging the provincial government to draft a similar agreement with Ottawa to one that got sewer and water infrastructure added to thousands of homes on northern Ontario reserves in the 1990s.

The Canada-Ontario Retrofit Agreement involved the two governments spending more than $200 million over 10 years to bring conditions in reserve homes up to standards closer to those enjoyed by other Canadians. That included better electrical wiring, running water and indoor fixtures such as bathtubs, sinks and toilets.

The Ontario agreement was unusual because funding for programs and capital projects on reserves is supposed to be a federal responsibility.

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Friday, Dec. 17, 2010

JOE.BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS ARCHIVES
Elder Sam Harper from Wasagamack First Nation retrieves water from Island Lake for his family. More than 1,400 homes on Manitoba reserves have no running water.

Northern chiefs want water

By Mia Rabson 3 minute read Preview

Northern chiefs want water

By Mia Rabson 3 minute read Thursday, Dec. 16, 2010

OTTAWA -- Northern Manitoba aboriginal leaders want clean running water in every home on reserves within two years.

Four chiefs travelled to Ottawa Wednesday to make their plea on Parliament Hill, just a month after a Free Press series revealed that more than 1,400 homes on northern Manitoba reserves have no running water.

"Clean running water in every home is basically what we need here today," said Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak Grand Chief David Harper.

The lack of running water has been blamed for health issues including skin problems and the easy spread of infections like flu. Without running water, even basic hygiene like handwashing is difficult.

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Thursday, Dec. 16, 2010

HELEN.FALLDING@FREEPRESS.MB.CA
Nicole Mason, 14, and her brother haul water to their trailer at St. Theresa Point last winter. More than 1,400 homes on northern reserves lack running water.

Aboriginal leaders call for action on running water

Mia Rabson 2 minute read Preview

Aboriginal leaders call for action on running water

Mia Rabson 2 minute read Wednesday, Dec. 15, 2010

OTTAWA -- Northern Manitoba aboriginal leaders were in Ottawa this morning demanding the federal government put in place a plan to have clean running water in every northern reserve within two years.

Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak Grand Chief David Harper said the lack of running water in as many as 1,000 homes “jeopardizes everyone.”

“Whenever there is a crisis in any part of the world Canada jumps,” said Harper.

He estimates it would cost $60 million to retrofit the homes with the plumbing and fixtures necessary to support running water and install water holding tanks.

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Wednesday, Dec. 15, 2010

OTTAWA -- Northern Manitoba aboriginal leaders were in Ottawa this morning demanding the federal government put in place a plan to have clean running water in every northern reserve within two years.

Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak Grand Chief David Harper said the lack of running water in as many as 1,000 homes “jeopardizes everyone.”

“Whenever there is a crisis in any part of the world Canada jumps,” said Harper.

He estimates it would cost $60 million to retrofit the homes with the plumbing and fixtures necessary to support running water and install water holding tanks.

Manitoba formally seeks help to build permanent road

By Mia Rabson 3 minute read Preview

Manitoba formally seeks help to build permanent road

By Mia Rabson 3 minute read Thursday, Nov. 18, 2010

OTTAWA -- The Manitoba government formally asked Ottawa Wednesday for help to expedite construction of an all-weather road into Island Lake.

Manitoba Aboriginal Affairs Minister Eric Robinson met with federal Indian Affairs Minister John Duncan on Parliament Hill, in part to ask Ottawa to partner on building a permanent road to the four Island Lake communities.

At the same time, Ernie Gilroy, head of the East Side Road Authority, met with bureaucrats from the federal department of infrastructure to discuss the project, which includes roads to other communities east of Lake Winnipeg.

Robinson said he is encouraged by the meetings. "The minister and I have agreed the east-side road has got to be put on the radar screen of the federal government."

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Thursday, Nov. 18, 2010

OTTAWA -- The Manitoba government formally asked Ottawa Wednesday for help to expedite construction of an all-weather road into Island Lake.

Manitoba Aboriginal Affairs Minister Eric Robinson met with federal Indian Affairs Minister John Duncan on Parliament Hill, in part to ask Ottawa to partner on building a permanent road to the four Island Lake communities.

At the same time, Ernie Gilroy, head of the East Side Road Authority, met with bureaucrats from the federal department of infrastructure to discuss the project, which includes roads to other communities east of Lake Winnipeg.

Robinson said he is encouraged by the meetings. "The minister and I have agreed the east-side road has got to be put on the radar screen of the federal government."

Glover to meet Island Lake chiefs

By Mia Rabson 4 minute read Preview

Glover to meet Island Lake chiefs

By Mia Rabson 4 minute read Wednesday, Nov. 17, 2010

The federal government is sending Indian Affairs parliamentary secretary Shelly Glover to meet with Island Lake chiefs this weekend to discuss what can be done to address the lack of basic services in the impoverished Manitoba region.

St. Theresa Point Chief David McDougall confirmed Tuesday the meeting he requested in a Nov. 10 letter was granted.

"We want to discuss the options and what can happen to address some of the immediate concerns," said McDougall, who chairs the Island Lake Tribal Council.

He believes the government is listening after a series of Free Press stories drew attention to the health problems caused by lack of running water in hundreds of the area's homes.

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Wednesday, Nov. 17, 2010

The federal government is sending Indian Affairs parliamentary secretary Shelly Glover to meet with Island Lake chiefs this weekend to discuss what can be done to address the lack of basic services in the impoverished Manitoba region.

St. Theresa Point Chief David McDougall confirmed Tuesday the meeting he requested in a Nov. 10 letter was granted.

"We want to discuss the options and what can happen to address some of the immediate concerns," said McDougall, who chairs the Island Lake Tribal Council.

He believes the government is listening after a series of Free Press stories drew attention to the health problems caused by lack of running water in hundreds of the area's homes.

Chiefs push for road in north

By Helen Fallding 4 minute read Preview

Chiefs push for road in north

By Helen Fallding 4 minute read Tuesday, Nov. 16, 2010

Speeding up construction of a $1.4-billion all-weather road from Norway House to Island Lake is the best way to ensure thousands of First Nations residents get running water, their chiefs said Monday.

The chiefs from Wasagamack, St. Theresa Point, Garden Hill and Red Sucker Lake flew to Winnipeg for a news conference at the Island Lake Tribal Council office, where they joined Manitoba Grand Chief Ron Evans in calling on the federal government to help pay for the road. All plumbing and construction supplies now have to be brought in via an ice road that was open for less than four weeks this year.

"We need to expedite the road that goes into that region," Evans said, referring to the east-west route announced last week by the East Side Road Authority. A previous proposal for a road all the way up the east side of Lake Winnipeg was rejected because it would have been 168 kilometres longer.

"The province tells us that it would take 30 years... to build a road into that region if there's no federal support," the grand chief said.

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Tuesday, Nov. 16, 2010

JOE.BRYKSA@FREEPRESS.MB.CA
From left, Wasagamack Chief Jerry Knott, Garden Hill Chief Dino Flett, AMC Grand Chief Ron Evans, St. Theresa Point Chief David McDougall and Red Sucker Lake Chief Larry Knott tell media Monday of the need for an all-weather road from Norway House to First Nations in the Island Lake area.

VIDEO: Chiefs address running-water issue

By Helen Fallding 1 minute read Preview

VIDEO: Chiefs address running-water issue

By Helen Fallding 1 minute read Monday, Nov. 15, 2010

Manitoba chiefs proposed a solution to the lack of running water in Island Lake homes at an afternoon news conference.

“The area has 10,000 people. Nearly half of the homes lack running water and sewage pipes,” Manitoba Grand Chief Ron Evans said in a news release. “And the answer is right in front of us.”

Their focus was on the completion of an all-weather road to connect isolated communities allowing for access to construction and contractor vehicles.

He was joined by St. Theresa Point Chief David McDougall and Wasagamack Chief Jerry Knott at the downtown Winnipeg office of the Island Lake Tribal Council.

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Monday, Nov. 15, 2010

JOE.BRYKSA@FREEPRESS.MB.CA
AMC Grand Chief Ron Evans demands the Province of Manitoba fast track the construction of an all-weather road to the Island Lakes Community to help end the no running water crisis.

Do upgrades now, most in poll say

By Helen Fallding 4 minute read Preview

Do upgrades now, most in poll say

By Helen Fallding 4 minute read Saturday, Nov. 6, 2010

Island Lake communities deserve immediate plumbing upgrades to make sure homes there finally get running water, according to a survey conducted this fall for the Free Press.

Three-quarters of Manitobans polled by Probe Research agreed the four First Nations should move to the front of the line for infrastructure upgrades -- with more than half feeling strongly about it.

Probe research associate Curtis Brown said Manitobans take it for granted that people living in settlements have tap water.

"I do. Anyone I know does, whether you live in Winnipeg or Brandon or a smaller rural or northern community in the province."

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Saturday, Nov. 6, 2010

JOE.BRYKSA@FREEPRESS.MB.CA
It’s tough to keep children like Red Sucker Lake’s John Wayne Harper clean in homes with no running water.

Public health emergency

By Helen Fallding 5 minute read Preview

Public health emergency

By Helen Fallding 5 minute read Thursday, Nov. 4, 2010

IT'S time to call a public health emergency in Island Lake, says Manitoba Grand Chief Ron Evans.

"We need to be able to do more, like declare a state of emergency that these communities should be a priority, especially for the coming winter... I haven't seen any plans as to how we're going to take advantage of the short winter-road season that'll be coming upon us."

If the winter is so warm that ice roads to Island Lake cannot open this year to get in more plumbing supplies, "Maybe we'll have to call in the army," Evans said. "It's going to lead up to that if nothing's done."

Since 2001, Indian and Northern Affairs Canada has spent $55 million to bring tap water and flush toilets to about half the Island Lake region's 10,000 people.

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Thursday, Nov. 4, 2010

JOE.BRYKSA@FREEPRESS.MB.CA
A $6-million water treatment plant is under construction in Red Sucker Lake, but there’s no piping to deliver the water to homes and many don’t even have stor­age tanks for truck delivery.

Water woes cause concern

By Helen Fallding 4 minute read Preview

Water woes cause concern

By Helen Fallding 4 minute read Tuesday, Nov. 2, 2010

Canadians are concerned about First Nations' drinking water problems, once they're made aware of them.

The Canadian Water Attitudes Study, conducted by Ipsos Reid for the Royal Bank and Unilever, found almost half of Canadians were not aware of water-quality issues on First Nations reserves. More Prairie residents had heard of the problems, but even here, the majority said they didn't know much.

The survey was conducted before the Free Press revealed Saturday that thousands of Island Lake residents live without running water, including some who struggle to keep their families healthy with less water than international aid agencies distribute after a natural disaster.

Since those stories were published, readers have been writing to the paper asking how they can help. "Sometimes words just aren't enough, and I guess I was just wondering where you would start to solve something like this?" social work student Erin Roche, 22, asked in an email.

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Tuesday, Nov. 2, 2010

Canadians are concerned about First Nations' drinking water problems, once they're made aware of them.

The Canadian Water Attitudes Study, conducted by Ipsos Reid for the Royal Bank and Unilever, found almost half of Canadians were not aware of water-quality issues on First Nations reserves. More Prairie residents had heard of the problems, but even here, the majority said they didn't know much.

The survey was conducted before the Free Press revealed Saturday that thousands of Island Lake residents live without running water, including some who struggle to keep their families healthy with less water than international aid agencies distribute after a natural disaster.

Since those stories were published, readers have been writing to the paper asking how they can help. "Sometimes words just aren't enough, and I guess I was just wondering where you would start to solve something like this?" social work student Erin Roche, 22, asked in an email.