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Neskantaga evacuating over water concerns

Second evacuation in just over a year caused by unknown sheen observed on First Nation's water system

NESKANTAGA FIRST NATION – Concerns over water quality in Neskantaga First Nation, over 400 kilometres north of Thunder Bay, will force the community to evacuate its most vulnerable residents.

Chief Chris Moonias announced the step on social media early Tuesday evening.

"Disheartening and sad that I have to evacuate the elderly, infants, chronic and the most vulnerable poeple [sic] due to water issues twice during my short term as Chief especially now during COVID-19 scare," he wrote on Twitter.

Details on the number of potential evacuees and where they will be hosted were not yet known, said a Matawa tribal council representative Tuesday.

Moonias had previously said the step might be necessary after an "unknown sheen" was discovered on the surface of water in its reservoir system. 

That force a complete shutdown of its water treatment system until samples taken Monday by Matawa tribal council technicians could be analyzed – a process that could take up to 10 days.

Around 200 community members previously evacuated to Thunder Bay in September of 2019 when the community's water pumps failed.

The First Nation has been under a boil water advisory for over 25 years, the longest of any community in Canada.

Moonias expressed bitter frustration over the situation Monday, saying the First Nation's pleas for a complete overhaul of its water system had fallen on deaf ears at the federal government. 

“It’s very dehumanizing to us, what we’re going through,” he told TBT News. “Water is a basic human right. How come we can’t have it? Are we expected to live like this for another 25 years?”

The community is demanding Indigenous Services Canada support the evacuation of vulnerable community members. The federal government had refused a similar request last year, arguing there were no immediate safety risks.


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