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Neskantaga takes water fight to Queen's Park

Two community members sit in on provincial legislature Tuesday as First Nation calls for support fixing its drinking water from Ontario's government

TORONTO – Two members of Neskantaga First Nation, which evacuated earlier this month over a contaminated water supply, visited the provincial legislature Tuesday, calling for Ontario’s government to play a role in fixing the community’s drinking water.

Located over 400 kilometres north of Thunder Bay, Neskantaga has been under a boil water advisory for 25 years, making it the longest continual advisory in Canada.

An oily sheen discovered on the surface of its reservoir prompted an evacuation beginning Oct. 20.

Neskantaga members Lawrence Sakanee and Alex Moonias planned to sit in on a session of the legislature Tuesday, after being joined by Kiiwetinoong MPP Sol Mamakwa for a press conference that morning.

Mamakwa said as a signatory to Treaty 9, the province had an obligation to support efforts to provide necessities of life in the community.

“They’re signatory to a treaty, and they need to invest some resources into helping the crisis – and not just during a crisis, but make some investments,” he said. “They need to be part of the solution”

In a statement issued Tuesday, the First Nation demanded a commitment from Ontario to contribute to a new distribution and sewer system. Despite federal investments to upgrade the community’s water treatment plant, Chief Chris Moonias said problems with the distribution system and other infrastructure required additional work.

“The ‘new’ water treatment plant, which has been in progress for years, has not been commissioned yet and the water supply system and related infrastructure are in need of replacement,” he said. “With so many leaks in the distribution pipes, the system cannot keep the water reservoir at a manageable level. Community members often go without water or pressure in the lines.”

Moonias joined the event virtually from Thunder Bay, along with two mothers from the community who spoke of how water quality issues in Neskantaga had impacted them.

“I think about my children – I don’t want them to grow up without clean drinking water,” said one. “I don’t want them to grow up bathing in the tap water back home. It’s not good for them. They don’t deserve that – they deserve clean water.”

Sakanee and Alex Moonias were expected to stay in Toronto for several more days, working to draw attention to the issue.

In a statement, Nishnawbe Aski Nation lent the campaign its support.

“Canada is known as one of the greatest countries in the world to live in, but the people of Neskantaga are being denied the basic human right of access to clean water,” said Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler. “Treaty No. 9 and Treaty No. 5 represent the Nation-to-Nation relationship between the people of Nishnawbe Aski and the Crown. We fully support Chief Moonias, and we look to the governments of Ontario and Canada to honour the Treaties and provide the necessities of life to the people of Neskantaga.”


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