Issue dating back years blamed on COVID-19 for unreliable drinking water infrastructure

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Tap Water

Human rights are basic rights.

Neskantaga has the longest-duration boil water advisory of any reserve in the country – 25 years and counting.

Government officials say at least 22 boil-water advisories in First Nations communities will remain in place after March 2021, the deadline to deliver on a promise to lift all long-term advisories made by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau five years ago.

The department says 97 boil-water advisories have been lifted since 2016, which still leaves 59 in place for 41 communities as the problem of unreliable drinking water persists.

Christiane Fox, the deputy minister of Indigenous Services, says the COVID-19 pandemic has thrown a wrench into efforts to upgrade water systems and carry out on-site training, with supply chains snarled and some reserves opting to restrict travel.

Fox says the complexity of projects, which can include infrastructure overhauls, on remote sites have added to the delay.

How can an issue that dates back years be blamed on COVID-19?

In late October, about 250 residents of Neskantaga First Nation in northern Ontario, which has had a boil-water advisory in place for 25 years, were evacuated from their homes following the discovery of an oily sheen in its reservoir.

A sad and unforgettable statement from a nine-year-old girl, illustrates the damage done to such a young soul.

“Stuck in a hotel during a Christmas pandemic, Neskantaga members wait for water crisis to end.”

Nine-year-old Bedahbun ‘Bee’ Moonias can’t bring herself to drink the running water in her Thunder Bay, Ont., hotel room.

“Since we can’t drink the tap water back in Neskantaga, I’m scared to use the tap water here to drink it,” Moonias said. “So I use water bottles.”

Moonias has spent her whole life worrying about the water flowing from her faucets back home in Neskantaga First Nation, a remote fly-in Ontario community about 450 kilometres north of Thunder Bay.

In its fall economic statement Monday, the Liberal government pledged to invest $1.5 billion this year to work toward lifting all long-term drinking water advisories in Indigenous communities, on top of $2.1 billion already committed since 2016.