Ontario First Nation declares state of emergency after radioactive particles found in local water source

Ontario First Nation declares state of emergency because of drinking water

Brandi Morin
APTN National News
A First Nation in northwestern Ontario has declared a state of emergency after receiving a do not consume water advisory from Health Canada officials February 12.

The advisory is step above a boil water advisory and was ordered due to traces of radionuclide found in the local water source and higher than normal lead levels.

Northwest Angle #33 First Nation Chief Darlene Comegan said in a statement that her community is tired of being ignored by both provincial and federal governments and is calling on them to take immediate action to help.

“In light of the Federal government’s plan to ensure clean drinking water for First Nations … we are living in third world conditions and it is just not acceptable. It is beyond Chief Comegan’s understanding that we can be forgotten by everyone,” the statement read.

The chief and other leadership met with a cancer study team in Toronto last week to come up with a plan to address the high cancer rates found in the community and surrounding area believed linked to their water source.

“It’s a very scary issue. Our members always knew there was an issue with the water,” said Norma Girard, land manager for Northwest Angle #33. “How many more of our people do we have to see suffer and die from cancer?”

Although there are fewer than 50 people living on reserve due to safety concerns around water and road access, Girard said they’re concerned for the elders, young children and new born baby that are living currently there.

The First Nation has been supplying bottled water to community members since 2011, which Girard said was funded via “wherever they could find it”.

They’ve been utilizing two portable water treatment plants for the last 15 years.

“Those were put in place at the time as a temporary solution,” said Girard.

The reserve is located in the Kenora district of northwestern Ontario and is only accessible by boat in the summer time and ice road in the winter.

Leadership is further concerned about the upcoming spring breakup that will make it more difficult to deliver clean drinking water.

The problem extends to a lack of access to electricity that could power a proper water treatment plant.

The community sits on the Manitoba/Minnesota border and currently pays high costs for hydro electricity from the U.S. which purchases it from Manitoba and is fed there on a marine cable. They’re in the midst of applying for a direct power line through Manitoba Hydro.

“We’ve always been on a capacity issue. We can only do so much with that cable that we have. If we want a water plant we have to have power to push it,” said Girard.

The lack of power means no school and limited infrastructure. Most families move to the City of Kenora so that their kids can go to school.

It’s the most vulnerable, like elders and younger children that are left being behind, said Girard.

She said leadership spoke with Indigenous and Northern Affairs today via telephone who advised they will provide money to continue supplying bottled water.

But Girard said they need more than that. Her community is dying out and they want their children back home.

“How can we have a community without children? What is home without the sounds of their voices playing nearby?”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has vowed to end the water crisis in First Nations communities within 5 years and Girard said they’re trusting him to keep his word.

“Based on the Speech from the Throne, Justin Trudeau’s promises…we’re hoping. That’s our hope that the Federal government will do something,” said Girard.

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