Water manager in Carry the Kettle wants apology from Saskatchewan MP

Recent allegations made in the House of Commons by Conservative MP Kevin Waugh aren’t sitting well with the water operator in Carry the Kettle Nakoda Nation in Saskatchewan.

“To have somebody come in, say that behind their backs, without even coming out to Carry the Kettle, to see our facilities and to meet our water operators and understand the environment they work in and what they do, was a slap in the face to them and they didn’t feel so so good about it,” said Kimbal Ironstar, the community’s water plant manager.

On Feb. 5, during a debate about the federal Liberal’s proposed First Nations water law, Waugh questioned the government’s handling of poor water in communities across the country. Then he added, “In my province of Saskatchewan, I have seen reserves burn down water treatment plants because this government has done little or nothing.

“These water treatment plants need education and they need people on reserve to operate the water treatment plants.”

Waugh has repeatedly been asked to comment on this story by APTN News but has so far refused. Eventually, his office sent a letter to APTN saying that, in the end, Waugh was “not familiar with the specific circumstances of these incidents and did not intend to make any implication about the cause.”

MP to apologize to Piapot First Nation

On Monday, his office issued another statement and said Waugh has offered to meet with the chief of Piapot First Nation, along with Elders, and tour the community.

Chief Mark Fox issued a statement on the weekend saying they rejected Waugh’s comments as “grossly disrespectful,” calling for a formal apology and retraction of his “baseless claims.”

He added there needs to be “education provided for people on reserve to operate these water treatment plants,” and blamed the Liberals for not doing more.

The water plant in Carry the Kettle was damaged by a fire in 2019, and another in Piapot First Nation burned down in 2018. Fox said investigations into the Piapot fire determined a propane leak as the cause.

Ironstar said he remembers the fire in Carry the Kettle.

“It was in February, lots of snow on the ground and very cold,” he said. “When I got home I smelled smoke thinking it was my house and me and the wife and kids started running around our house looking for where the smoke … when I came behind the house I saw it was the water plant.”

Ironstar said the first inspector said two areas may have been the cause including a ceiling heater and an electrical box that may have shorted out.

The Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations, which represents 74 First Nations in Saskatchewan, called on Waugh to apologize and undergo “cultural competency training.”

“An apology is not only a gesture of accountability but also an opportunity to educate and raise awareness about the importance of cultural sensitivity,” the federation said in a statement.

They also urged him to actively participate “in initiatives that promote First Nation inherent and treaty rights and understanding.”

The legislation that was being debated at the time is aimed at improving water quality in First Nations communities, advancing collaboration on water protection and establishing a new First Nations-led water commission.

It was tabled in December, more than a year after the federal government repealed legislation on drinking water for First Nations that dated back to Stephen Harper’s Conservative government.

Ironstar said he hoped that Waugh would take the time to visit the First Nations he spoke about to understand how they operate.

“Until he comes out to meet our guys and sees the stuff, maybe then he’ll apologize,” said Ironstar. “It’s going to be a heartfelt apology.

“Talk like this is, is going to affect us for maybe a day or two. But you know what, we’re going to get up the next day and we’re going to go back to work, and we’re going to do the things we need to do to keep our community safe.”

Carry the Kettle is not on the federal boil water advisory.

With files from Alessia Passafiume – the Canadian Press

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