The 340 residents of Neskantaga First Nation will soon have access to clean water for the first time in 22 years.
Federal Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs Carolyn Bennett announced July 28 that Ottawa is spending $8.8 million to upgrade the remote Far North community’s water treatment system, including a plant with new treatment technology and additional reservoir storage capacity.
A news release said the project should be finished by late spring 2018. It’s part of the federal government’s $1.8-billion program to improve water infrastructure in Indigenous communities.
The James Bay community, located near the mineral deposits of the Ring of Fire, has been under a two-decade-long drinking water advisory.
"For more than 20 years we haven't been able to drink water from our taps or bathe without getting rashes,” said Neskantaga Chief Wayne Moonia.
“Water is a basic human right, and it should not have taken this long to provide the people of Neskantaga with access to safe drinking water. Our members drove this process, including the visit by the Hon. Carolyn Bennett in 2016, that made this a priority for the government, and we thank them for opening their homes. This has been a long and difficult process and has demonstrated the resolve of our members. We also appreciate the efforts of everyone who brought attention to this issue over the years. We are one step closer to ending the water advisory, but there is much more work to be done. We hope that work gets underway immediately."
“This accomplishment is worth celebrating and is also an example of what can be accomplished when we work in true partnership,” said Bennett. “Investing in water systems like the one at Neskantaga First Nation represents one more step in renewing our relationship with First Nations and reaffirms our commitment to end all long-term drinking water advisories affecting on-reserve public systems financially supported by Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada.”
“The approval of this project is a strong signal of this government's commitment to eliminating all First Nation drinking water advisories, and we hope that investment in vital community infrastructure continues across NAN territory,” said Nishnawbe Aski Nation (NAN) Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler.