This past November marked 25 years since Neskantaga First Nation, located in Northwestern Ontario, was placed on a boil water advisory. In October 2020, over 250 Neskantaga residents were evacuated and transferred to a hotel in Thunder Bay after “an oily sheen was found in the Neskantaga water reservoir;” “high levels of hydrocarbons” were discovered in the water after testing. Residents were able to return after two months, but the boil water advisory remains. Chief Chris Moonias has called upon Ontario Premier Doug Ford to support Neskantaga First Nation in securing clean drinking water and properly trained water operators – Ford has yet to respond. Ending all boil-water advisories in Canada can no longer be delayed; Ford must act in accordance with the concerns of the Neskantaga First Nation immediately.
Neskantaga First Nation is subject to one of the 58 long-term drinking water advisories in 40 communities across Canada. In his 2015 federal campaign, Trudeau promised to end all boil-water advisories on First Nations land by March 2021 – however, he explains that this date will be extended due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The government is now allowing “at least 22 [boiling water advisories] in 10 communities” to remain unresolved until March 2021. Autumn Peltier, Wikwemikong First Nation water activist, points out that because of the pandemic, access to clean water is “more critical now than ever. This is probably the time the government needs to be acting on this even more effectively. Clean water is needed not only for drinking, but for washing hands, brushing teeth, doing dishes and cooking. That’s simple sanitation. Many First Nations communities do not have access to simple sanitation.” Boil water advisories exacerbate the strain remote communities are already experiencing on their local resources and complicate necessary COVID-19 sanitation procedures. The pandemic only adds urgency to what is an already pressing issue, and the government’s decision to delay rather than expedite the process risks lives. Access to sanitation during a pandemic is essential, and failure to provide this to Indigenous communities is an act of violence.
Trudeau must prioritize projects that will end the boil water advisories, especially considering the precarity caused by the pandemic. Trudeau promising to end boil water advisories as a part of his campaign but failing to do so during a worldwide health crisis exemplifies how exploiting “Indigenous issues” to further a political agenda is both insulting and dangerous for the communities in question.
Meanwhile, as the government continues to use the pandemic as an excuse to withhold certain communities’ access to clean drinking water, they are simultaneously bailing out major corporations. According to a CBC investigation, the government paid Imperial Oil, a Canadian petroleum company, $120 million – clearly the government has money to spare. Crucially, the federal government is funding an oil company that made “dividend payments to shareholders” while also “claiming … public aid.” Under the protection of Trudeau’s government, companies that contribute to the destruction of Indigenous land are not only permitted, but financially encouraged, to continue doing so. Furthermore, the same federal government continues to fail to provide safe water to communities like Neskantaga First Nation. Additionally, Ontario “received $7 billion in funding” for COVID-19 relief, $5 billion of which has yet to be spent. In comparison, Trudeau’s government has invested only $16 million into upgrading Neskantaga First Nation’s water facility to “a chemical-assisted conventional treatment system–” this is roughly one three-hundredth of Ontario’s COVID-19 relief fund. This upgrade was meant to be completed by spring of 2018 but has been delayed for nearly three years. The federal government is clearly capable of devoting a considerable amount of attention and resources to public health crises when they choose to – the fact that they have not done so for Indigenous communities indicates that they do not prioritize Indigenous people’s needs.
The hypocrisy of Trudeau’s government during the pandemic is unforgivable and a violation of basic human rights. Additionally, the continual delays when it comes to ending boil water advisories is a demonstration of gross governmental negligence. To bring attention to and support the communities impacted by boil water advisories, you can sign the petition in support of the Neskantaga First Nation as well as the petition for ending long-term drinking water advisories across the country. You can also contact Premier Ford’s office at firstname.lastname@example.org, and demand that he works with Chief Chris Moonias and his requests for support.
Furthermore, consider contacting Marc Miller, Minister of Indigenous Services, at Marc.Miller@parl.gc.ca to place pressure on the federal government to ensure that the end of all boil water advisories is not delayed any further. It is imperative that we provide support within our own communities as well; if you are in the position to provide monetary support, donate to the Neskantaga Water Crisis GoFundMe and/or mutual aid resources such as the Radical Indigenous Mutual Aid Emergency Fund as well as Indigenous Mutual Aid groups.
To learn more about the Neskantaga First Nation, visit their website at http://neskantaga.com.