This past November marked 25 years since Neskantaga First Nation, located in Northwestern Ontario, was placed on a boil water advisory. In October 2020, over 250 Neskantaga residents were evacuated and transferred to a hotel in Thunder Bay after “an oily sheen was found in the Neskantaga water reservoir;” “high levels of hydrocarbons” were discovered in the water after testing. Residents were able to return after two months, but the boil water advisory remains. Chief Chris Moonias has called upon Ontario Premier Doug Ford to support Neskantaga First Nation in securing clean drinking water and properly trained water operators – Ford has yet to respond. Ending all boil-water advisories in Canada can no longer be delayed; Ford must act in accordance with the concerns of the Neskantaga First Nation immediately.
Neskantaga First Nation is subject to one of the 58 long-term drinking water advisories in 40 communities across Canada. In his 2015 federal campaign, Trudeau promised to end all boil-water advisories on First Nations land by March 2021 – however, he explains that this date will be extended due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The government is now allowing “at least 22 [boiling water advisories] in 10 communities” to remain unresolved until March 2021. Autumn Peltier, Wikwemikong First Nation water activist, points out that because of the pandemic, access to clean water is “more critical now than ever. This is probably the time the government needs to be acting on this even more effectively. Clean water is needed not only for drinking, but for washing hands, brushing teeth, doing dishes and cooking. That’s simple sanitation. Many First Nations communities do not have access to simple sanitation.” Boil water advisories exacerbate the strain remote communities are already experiencing on their local resources and complicate necessary COVID-19 sanitation procedures. The pandemic only adds urgency to what is an already pressing issue, and the government’s decision to delay rather than expedite the process risks lives. Access to sanitation during a pandemic is essential, and failure to provide this to Indigenous communities is an act of violence.
Trudeau must prioritize projects that will end the boil water advisories, especially considering the precarity caused by the pandemic. Trudeau promising to end boil water advisories as a part of his campaign but failing to do so during a worldwide health crisis exemplifies how exploiting “Indigenous issues” to further a political agenda is both insulting and dangerous for the communities in question.
Meanwhile, as the government continues to use the pandemic as an excuse to withhold certain communities’ access to clean drinking water, they are simultaneously bailing out major corporations. According to a CBC investigation, the government paid Imperial Oil, a Canadian petroleum company, $120 million – clearly the government has money to spare. Crucially,…