Water Chronicles
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November 27, 2014
Boiling Point!
by the Polaris Institute in collaboration with the Assembly of First Nations
and supported by the Canadian Labour Congress. - Full Report

Six community profiles of the water crisis facing First Nations within Canada

Lansdowne House (Neskantaga), Ontario
Lansdowne House is an Aboriginal community of 282 in Northern Ontario, 500 kilometres north of Thunder Bay. This First Nations community was put on a boil water advisory in 1995; it continues to be on advisory today. In 2001 the overall ranking of the community’s water system was deemed as high risk. In the same year, septic systems of houses in the community were backing up into basements and leaking into yards causing serious concerns about the immediate and long-term health impacts of this exposure. Concerns were also extended to the leaking of waste from a sewage pond into a local lake which supplies the community’s tap water.
On September 29, 2004, the water system was shut down as a result of tests conducted by an environmental health officer that found gasoline and a highlevel of Trihalomethane (THM, a type of chemical compound associated with an increased risk of cancer). This 2004 shut down became a flashpoint for concerns over the safety of drinking water in Neskantaga. Boiling the water was insufficient to reduce the grave health risks caused by gasoline and THM. Being without water caused economic, social, and health concerns for everyone in the community, but in particular, women and families with young children faced increasing health risks because of the lack of water for hygienic needs. To make matters worse, 50% of the homes in the community are contaminated with black mould, leading to more health concerns.

Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg, Quebec
Located a mere 130 kilometres north of Ottawa is the community of Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg reserve, adjacent to Maniwaki, Quebec. Kitigan Zibi is one of the six communities that remain in the priority community category under the federal government’s Plan of Action for Drinking Water in First Nations Communities.Well water in the community has been on a ‘do not consume’ drinking water advisory dating back to 1999.
In 2006 when the community was featured in a significant CBC documentary on the state of drinking water on Canada’s reserves, ‘Slow Boil,’ it was found that little had changed. There has been some progress in the community since 2006 under the ‘Plan of Action’ but it must be emphasized that this comes after years of people drinking water that most Canadians would deem undrinkable.
Interviewed for ‘Slow Boil", Juanita Emerson does not know if her well is contaminated with uranium or not. What she does know is that since she moved to the area, her hair started to fall out. Her mother lives next door, her hair is also falling out.
INAC recommended in 2001 that despite its odour and yellow colour, more of the homes on the Kitigan Zibi reserve should be connected to the water supply. The problem is that it is very costly to connect the supply to the homes in the community which are very spread out. In the meantime, bottled water is being seen as a longterm solution. $200,000 a year is spent on bottled water for Kitigan Zibi residents using well water.

Pikangikum First Nation, Ontario
The Pikangikum First Nation is located on the eastern shores of Pikangikum Lake in the Sioux Lookout District of northwestern Ontario. It is a remote community of 2300, one of the largest populations for a First Nations community in northern Ontario. Its residents are known for their tenacity in maintaining their culture and language, and they have the highest rate of indigenous language retention in Northern Ontario. Most of their people live off of the land.
A 58-year-old resident on the Pikangikum Reserve, Juliette Turtle lives in a 65 square metre house with eight relatives, no toilet, and no running water.Everyone uses the outhouse in the backyard. When the outhouse fills, the Turtle’s dig another hole in their yard and move the outhouse over top of it. Seven of Juliette’s 12 children committed suicide and are buried in her backyard.
One of the most frustrating aspects of Pikangikum’s situation is that there is an adequate water treatment plant that is capable of producing enough potable water for the entire community. The facility was built in 1995 by the federal government under the Indian and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC). In 2007, 90 percent of the homes remained unconnected. On October 3, 2000, an oil leak was found in the community’s water treatment plant which left everyone without access to clean water. Shipments of drinking water were flown in by INAC but were erratic because of bad weather. People resorted to drinking untreated lake water, known to be contaminated, or buying water in a four-litre jug for $5.99.
At the request of the Chief and Council of Pikangikum First Nation, an assessment of the drinking water and sewage services was conducted by the Northwestern Health Unit in 2006. According to the report, the situation is of urgent danger to public health. The rate of gastrointestinal infections, skin infections, lice infestations, urinary tract infections, and eye and ear infections are higher than in other regional First Nation and non-Aboriginal communities.
Despite the clear reality that Pikangikum is in crisis, it is not considered one of the 21 priority communities identified under the federal government’s Plan of Action for Drinking Water in First Nations Communities. This begs the question – how many other First Nations communities like Pikangikum are there in Canada?.../more


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