OPSEU/SEFPO President Warren (Smokey) Thomas says media reports about the toll a tainted water crisis is having on the Neskantaga First Nation are heartbreaking.
“This is a national disgrace and a failure of the Trudeau government to live up to its promise to end all boil water advisories on First Nation communities,” said Thomas.
The Neskantaga First Nation has been under a boil water advisory for over 25 years, the longest period such an advisory has ever been in place in Canada.
Media reports quote leaders of the northern Ontario First Nation as saying an oil sheen recently spotted in the water reservoir led to the discovery of a high level of hydrocarbons in the water.
This forced the evacuation of 460 on-reserve members from this remote community 430 kilometres northeast of Thunder Bay.
Sol Mamakwa, a member of the Ontario legislature whose Kiiwetinoong riding includes Neskantaga, told CBC News what he witnessed there was “the utter failure” of Canada and Ontario.
“We cannot treat people of Neskantaga differently compared to people who are in Mississauga, people in Toronto,” Mamakwa said. “We cannot have this kind of apartheid system of access to clean drinking water.”
The OPSEU/SEFPO Indigenous Circle has persistently called on the Canadian and Ontario governments to go beyond empty rhetoric and take real action to fulfill its promise of reconciliation with Indigenous communities.
Region 7 Indigenous Circle Representative Liisa Kearney (Thunder Bay) is demanding the federal government take immediate action to provide clean water for First Nations communities.
“What’s happening in our own backyard is unacceptable. Every time I turn the tap on, I think about the fact that so many people can’t even do this,” says Kearney.
“We need to raise our voices and respect the sacredness of water, the lifeblood of Mother Earth,” adds Lise Dampier, a Region 7 Indigenous Circle representative and member of the water campaign.
A 2016 Human Rights Watch report on Ontario First Nations communities was a scathing condemnation of Canada’s record. The report found that the federal government’s failure to fix the severe water crisis that these communities face is a violation of Canada’s international human rights obligations toward First Nations persons and communities. The United Nations General Assembly has declared 2018-2028 the Water Action Decade and OPSEU/SEFPO First Vice-President/Treasurer Eduardo (Eddy) Almeida says this should be a wake-up call for governments.
“OPSEU/SEFPO joins the chorus of global voices reminding Canada of its international and humanitarian obligation to provide safe drinking water for Indigenous communities,” says Almeida.