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‘We just want to go home:’ Neskantaga youth protest water crisis

Neskantaga youth held a protest outside the Thunder Bay Collier Project Leaders office demanding action on the ongoing water crisis.

THUNDER BAY - Lyndon Sakanee, a 12-year-old boy from Neskantaga First Nation, could not hold his tears back when talking about how much he misses his dog.

“I miss my dog. A lot,” he said.

Lyndon was among more than 20 youth from Neskantaga First Nation who held a demonstration outside of Collier Project Leaders Thunder Bay office on Tuesday demanding action on the ongoing water crisis in their home community, saying they just want to go home.

“We’re not animals. We’re not things. We’re human,” Lyndon said. “We need our water to survive. I wanted to help our community.”

The youth held up signs saying water is sacred and shouted: ‘We want to go home,’ while Neskantaga Chief Chris Moonias held up a phone so members of Collier Project Leaders having a project meeting could see what was happening.

“The people on the phone were having their weekly project meetings through Zoom,” Moonias said. “I got word that they were wanting to do this so I wanted to come down here and wanted to show them what the message is from our children.”

“They were speechless,” Moonias added.

Collier Project Leaders is the project management team for the water treatment plant in the community. Last month, the community was evacuated after an unknown sheen was found on the surface of the water in the reservoir system.

“They say they are working on it,” Moonias said. “They are trying to get the water plant running. This is our third week, 23 days. They’ve been working on it for two years.”

A new water treatment plant was built four years ago following an investment of $17 million from the federal government, but issues persist.

In 2017, the government committed $8.8 million for upgrades, with work expected to be completed next year.

It is expected community members will remain in Thunder Bay until at least Nov. 28.

For Lyndon and his fellow community members, being in the city is scary due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

“It is very scary because of the virus,” he said. “It’s scary. Hopefully we can go home and hopefully they fix the water. When they turned it off for a day, it got worse.”

The First Nations community located more than 400 kilometres north of Thunder Bay has been under a boil water advisory for more than 25 years and the community was evacuated in 2019 after a water pump failed.

Lyndon remembers the first time he was forced to leave his home.

“The first time it happened it wasn’t that bad. We had to stay here a few days,” he said. “But now with the virus and it’s gotten even worse and we have to stay here more.”

Moonias said it is very significant that the youth from the community are speaking out and he hopes progress will be made.

“We never had something like this,” he said. “They want to go home. They are scared of being here. It’s right in the middle of a pandemic. We shouldn’t be here. We shouldn’t have to be here and they shouldn’t have to do this.”

“There are some things that are progressing and some things that are being addressed, but it’s not good enough. We want to go home. We don’t want to be here.”

Doug Diaczuk

About the Author: Doug Diaczuk

Doug Diaczuk is a reporter and award-winning author from Thunder Bay. He has a master’s degree in English from Lakehead University
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