Canadian Rangers deployed to Neskantaga First Nation during water crisis


A warning at the school in Neskantaga First Nation in 2019. Photo: APTN.

Canadian Rangers were expected to arrive in Neskantaga First Nation on Friday to help the remote community in northern Ontario as it grapples with a water crisis.

Much of the First Nation was evacuated earlier in the month after high levels of hydrocarbons — chemical compounds found in crude oil and coal — were discovered in the water supply, forcing officials to turn off the pipes.

“The Canadian Rangers have also been deployed to support the community and should be on the ground as of today,” Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller told reporters on Friday.

“We’re diligently working towards finding immediate and long-term solutions to this health emergency, and we will not stop until Neskantaga has access to clean, safe and reliable drinking water.”

The Rangers are a sub-component of the Canadian Army Reserve. They were activated in various communities during the pandemic in the Spring.

Neskantaga has Canada’s longest-standing on-reserve boil-water advisory, in place for 26 years.

Earlier this month, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau backtracked on a longstanding promise to end all on-reserve boil-water advisories by March 2021, citing travel restrictions implemented because of the pandemic.

Miller said the government continues to “work aggressively” to end boil-water advisories by next spring.

“Canada won’t stop until all First Nations on-reserve have access to safe, clean and reliable drinking water,” he said Friday.

water crisis
A resident filling up water jugs from the lake in Neskantaga First Nation. Chief Chris Moonias photo

Last week, the chief of Neskantaga said the federal government must meet a number of demands before approximately 200 members can return home after they were evacuated earlier this week due to the water crisis and the shutdown of their treatment plant.

The northwestern Ontario community was forced to shut down the plant after it found an unknown oily substance on top of the water reservoir.

Leadership has since declared a state of emergency and evacuated at-risk members including elders, infants and those with chronic health concerns to Thunder Bay, about 450 kilometres away.

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