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Water Today Title May 27, 2024

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First Nations Water

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WT staff

Interview with Eabametoong Chief Harvey Yesno. The transciption below has been edited for clarity and length.

WT -Thanks for doing this.

Chief Yesno - Welcome.

WT - I was wondering if you can tell me a little bit about your community, the name properly pronounced of your community and how many people are in your community?

Chief Yesno - Yes well, the name we go by now is Eabametoong which is the name we always had, we were known as the people of Eabamet Lake thatís what Eabametoong means itís the place of Eabamet Lake. So, thereís presently a little over 1600 people residing in the remote, like a fly in community. We do have another probably close to 1300 now members are living all over the place. I think the largest contingent we have is in Thunder Bay and the rest are across the country or even in the US. So, about just under 3000 people but a little over 1600 are in the community.

WT - The first thing Iíd like to cover is your community being under BWA for some 20 years, how does that come to be and sort of whatís going on now. I understand the plant is either built or finished, or almost finished. Can you tell me a bit about this?

Chief Yesno -Yes, actually today is our 7,199 day under long term boil water advisory. Itís been a challenge you know, for the community obviously the new plant thatís under construction and subject to finalizing the deficiencies; we should be getting the green light that we have safe water to drink. The delay has been with Covid, a lot of stuff had to be delayed. So we were part of that delay whatever process that needs to be done to finalize. More concerning is the period we were in, we were just doing the chlorination, and the chlorine mixed with the organic material from the lake creating this new thing, chemical THMs and AHAís which with prolonged use for bathing and so on was not very good.

So, I mean thereís a lot of technical issues around that, I canít really elaborate on, but I did ask about long-term use, what does it mean and what could it cause? Some of the things it could cause is ovarian cancer or other abdomen type of issues, bladder and so on. So, I think thatís probably the one thing thatís most disappointing is that you know, obviously the government had known these issues exist because it wasnít just my own knowledge and learning about these issues, there are reputable reports both in the US and Canada that have determined that these types of water issues with humans is not very good over a long term.

So, we are one of the ones in that category and thereís no way of knowing how many people have died from cancer and so on. Thatís one thing successive governments have never done, is to keep track of any data related to deaths caused by lack of infrastructure or particularly in the areas of health, they will not track those because that creates a liability for them to do something. We are in that situation with water, so water being the one issue and weíre happy that once this new 12 million dollar chemical treatment plan, state-of-the-art, is the words that have been used, those are not my words, weíve still had some difficulties with it. I know there are some fail-safe mechanisms that had been put in place in the design you know, to provide safe water but it does not meet the thresholds of the second or third level of safety so it dumps all of that treated water back into the wastewater system.

The challenge weíre encountering right now, there was a report that was done in 1998 by an engineering firm that said the lift stations that we have, where the water is deposited before its forced into a lagoon, that report said those chambers would be too small by 2011 and so what happens is with the growth of the community, we actually had those overflows and spills on to ground of the lake, a number of times, and the first ones were around 2007. The Ontario Ministry got involved with an issued a directive to the Indian Affairs Regional Director General and the Chief at the time that they would be levied fines if that was not cleaned up. So it was cleaned up, but it was in the middle of winter. I donít think it's cleaned up, to this date, because thereís a lot of boat launches in that little bay, if you were pulling your boat onto deeper water, every time you put the paddle into the mud thereís bubbles of like mustard gas smell that comes out of the bottom of the lake and so I donít think that clean-up was done adequately for one thing.

Of course, thereís been other spills since that time, so itís not just that successive governments said ' well weíre going to deal with the boil water advisory issue' you know, but they were not addressing the issue of the capacity with the waste water. So thatís what Iím trying to explain here, that they do one thing and thereís another but they didnít provide the means to ensure that you donít create another problem. Of course the biggest one is, it's fine that the governments, particularly this government here thatís been on two terms now, you know they did make it an issue that were going to do something about the boil water advisories, they have not met the target but the other thing that has happened is that all of the resources that have been deployed in fixing the water systems, which is great for the health and safety of our communities and the people, it did not address these other infrastructure issues that needed to be replaced or upgraded over time, so itís a compounding issue.

You know while weíve been dealing with our boil water advisory - and its great weíll be able to drink our water from the tap and take a shower and not have to worry about long term effects - we have these other issues now we have to deal with.

WT - Chief Yesno, can you talk to me about mould in your housing situation and I understand as well that youíve lost several homes to fire recently. Can you talk about that?

Chief Yesno - - Yes. Well obviously, the mould I think has been an issue for many and I think we got educated ourselves. I think a lot of it has to do with just the number of people in the home. Right now, were averaging about 6 and a quarter per house. So, people still do their cooking, we donít have the right kind of ventilation systems, especially in the old stock homes. The newer homes weíre building with HVAC to have controlled moisture in the homes. In the older stock homes, which is most of the homes, there are sometimes 2, 3 family units in the house cooking taking turns because they are trying to manage their own resources, not everything is pooled even though they are living together. So, I think what we have learned from that is that because of the moisture that comes with the individuals from showers, particularly from cooking has contributed a lot. We do have a third party report that was done, because if we as leaders would say something about mould, then you know well, youíre just saying that, and so on.

So what the First Nation has done over the years is got third party sources to come in and examine the mould in the houses. I think for some of us too we didnít know mould existed. It wasnít until it got out in the media and people did some research that mould became, the quantity that was in our homes and how it was contributing perhaps to ill health, especially for those with compromised health issues.

So we had been living with that, and I think the other problem we have is the ground out here in our community and in the whole region is predominantly clay and rock. So, for example itís not very good for building any basements because all youíre doing is putting a hole in almost like a bowl. When you donít have a good drainage system that doesnít work well for basements, so weíve remembered that as weíve gone along but you know, weíre allowed to build these homes with basements and as a result they have not worked very well. Then the other thing of course with our house construction, for 45 years all of our local sourced gravel has been used to construct the air strip and maintain it and here we are, we got clay streets, when its dry itís not very pleasant, you're standing in like a white cloud because of the clay. So weíve had our challenges, we do try to address to minimize the conditions in the community. I think thatís also contributed I think a lot to the deterioration of the houses because weíve got so much dust thatís got in from people either on their clothing or feet into the home. So, coupled with all of that, thatís what contributed to the mould issue and the housing.

On the loss of houses due to fire, you know weíve tried to encourage other means of heating for the homes. The primary cause for these house fires is the use of wood and right now people canít rely on heating fuel or electricity. Both of those are the highest cost. You know, were on diesel generation we have been on it going on 50 plus years now. So that option is not good, you know were paying some of the highest cost for electricity. If we use it for heating especially in the winter, and if we use the same stove or another stove for cooking you know, the chimney apparatus is under heavy use so a lot of times those fires have been linked to that. There are some that are related to arson, some that have been deliberately set or in some cases the houses were empty, and people were out of the houses and so on. So thatís like the issue, anytime we have a loss like that we donít have a space or house somewhere else so we almost have to double up with somebodyís relatives there and thatís not always a good situation even in the best of circumstances.


The saga of long-term water advisories in First Nations communities


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