First Nations Water
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END IN SIGHT FOR THE 800 PEOPLE
OF WHITE BEAR FIRST NATION UNDER BWA SINCE 2011
Phone interview with Chief Nathan Pasap, April 12, 2021. The transciption below has been edited for clarity and length.
WT - April 12th an interview with Nathan Pasap, heís the Chief of the White Bear First Nation in Saskatchewan and heís with me on the phone here. Thanks for doing this.
Chief Pasap - Yes thank you, yeah, it's chief Nathan Pasap from White Bear First Nations yes.
WT - I have information here that says youíve been under a boil water advisory since 2011. Is that correct?
Chief Pasap -Yes, as far as I know weíve been under a boil water advisory since then and probably even longer than that but yeah, I would say so.
WT - How many people are in your community?
Chief Pasap - We have roughly around 800 on reserve in the on-reserve community, we operate a resort as well with cottage owners on our resort so thereís roughly 900 lots but not all of them are occupied all year.
WT - Thatís a fair number of people. Can you tell me how did this boil water advisory come to be, whatís involved with it and if you could tell me how come your still under a boil water advisory some 20 years later?
Chief Pasap -Well I think it had to do with a lot of the public infrastructure, our water treatment plant really wasnít performing at maximum capacity. Iíve only been chief for a little less than 4 years but once I did come into being Chief, Indian Affairs Minister Bennett announced that they were going to be doing a new water treatment plant with White Bear First Nations and so it has been completed. However, were in the final stages of getting the advisory lifted as we have a number of units along number 9 going north along the highway that are not on the current infrastructure mainline, so weíve had to make sure the water delivery system is safe and sanitary for them.
They were running on a cistern system and so not only that but we also have a preliminary measure in place which is individual filtration systems in every unit. In order to get a true reading of if the water treatment plant was working effectively, we had to remove all of those individual filtration systems and do independent testing throughout all of our mainline, all different sectors of our reserve.
So, there was a little bit of complexity there, the water treatment plant itself has been operating full steam ahead but weíve been monitoring. Weíve had to get these individual filtration systems out and weíve now done that. The houses on the cistern system are going to maintain their own individual filtration systems because they are on the cistern system, so theyíve chosen to keep that in place and weíre just in the final stages of testing to lift the boil water advisory.
WT - Let me ask you how much money was the water plant in the first place? So, you have a brand-new water plant is my understanding, its working fine from what you understand. How much was that?
Chief Pasap - I donít know the number off the top of my head id have to check with one of my council members thatís in charge of the project management team but it was in the millions. Iím going to say, Iím thinking its $9 million but Iíll have to take a look.
WT - I appreciate that. So then letís get on to the infrastructure, how much money do you need for this new infrastructure? I presume when you say infrastructure it means pipes from the water plant to the communityís houses, is that the infrastructure you are looking for?
Chief Pasap - Off the top of my head I would not know that value, we would have to get an engineering person to give us an estimate on the amount of line that we would need but it is a significant capital investment that is needed, if weíre going to have clean safe drinking water to every household, where elders can have laundry services within their own homes, dedicated clean lines, water delivery systems, safe, clean. You know thereís nothing like that for many of our houses. They are on cistern systems so, and even my motherís system is just on a cistern system because sheís off of number 9 highway going north so she has to rely on having water delivered.
WT - Iím trying to get a sense for my viewers from you, what it's like to live under a boil water advisory. How would you explain this to someone in downtown Toronto or downtown Vancouver?
Chief Pasap - Well I think you know living under a boil water advisory for close to 20 years, roughly there in or even longer, you canít go to the tap and drink your water, you donít want to bathe your kids in the water because you worry about the kids getting sores, eczema, very bad skin conditions.
You also worry about the cleanliness and the health of somebody that doesnít have fresh, clean drinking water. I think most of us enjoy being able to go to the tap and being able to run a glass of water and feel safe drinking it. You know what I would say, the original peoples of this land, you know, you think we would respectfully be afforded the right to enjoy fresh clean drinking water and good infrastructure like the rest of Canada does.
Thereís only 600 and some First Nations throughout Canada. So, you know the GDP and the profits from resource extraction should be able to afford creating healthy communities for the First Nations and Inuit throughout Canada.
WT -Let me ask you this then, when this story goes up, we will get emails and comments saying things like, well the government put lots of money in, is there a water operator there that even wants to work there, now that weíve given these people all of this money whatís so hard about fixing it? People will say things like thereís corruption, there's ineptitude from engineering companies, its kind of your problem. What do you say to that?
Chief Pasap - You know, one of the concerns is funding issues, when you are massively underfunded for a position where you would pay the individual 100 thousand and weíre getting funded somewhere roughly around 37 thousand dollars.
Thereís got to be some discretionary funding that comes from the band and when you have a band that has no economic development, they have no discretionary funds, well how do they top that wage up? How do they supplement the proper staffing technician in there? Now White Bear has 2 persos: 1 full time, 1 part time.
Management of the operations, everything was done with the project management team for this investment, and we continue to do our own internal testing as well, independent testing, third party testing to ensure the water is clean and safe. We make sure they are all reconciled when it comes to looking at our water sample. Again, I think other bands that are really small and like I said they donít have any economic development.
You have some bands in BC that are very tiny, here in Saskatchewan, Wood Mountain is a very tiny band located in the South West part of the province and they probably have maybe less than 30 members living on reserve. So, you know thereís a lot of diversity in the size and scale of bands as well. You have Onion Lake, which is one of the biggest bands in Canada, largest in land mass, you know the Blood Reserve, which is huge, so thereís such a variety in size and scale of all the bands.
I would say one of the biggest things too is the isolation of the different First Nations. If youíre living in an isolated area you need to have those natural resources such as water, and to live healthily and even having a road access, not just winter road access or barge access but having a road built into their communities, a dedicated road. There are many complexities to just say ' oh well, they're just blowing the money', well no, when you got to supply a remote community your costs are going to be elevated quite high. In regard to the technical specialists that go in and work in those communities, they need to be paid properly and a lot of those costs are highly elevated.
So, itís not just a cut and dry system of coming out to a First Nations and it's just going to be easy peasy, were going to put in infrastructure. You know you have a lot of those hurdles to overcome, but as Chief Iíve always looked to overcome these hurdles and build our community, be a nation builder and build economic wealth, things of that nature. There are communities out there that are thriving now and are pushing their own economic wealth and their own taxation frameworks to build up their communities. We have a very respectful dialogue, and we want to make sure that not only our fresh water but our wastewater is being managed and our solid waste on our reserve lands.
WT - Let me ask you, when do you expect all of this infrastructure could be upgraded, updated, paid for and installed. Are you looking at a year, two years what kind of time frame?
Chief Pasap -Iím thinking within the next 5 years if the Liberals can get this all squared away not only just the fresh water drinking plants but also the infrastructure thatís needed to go in all the different communities. We simply just need to redo our mainline system and then build a low-pressure line to the more remote areas where thereís just houses that are sporadically placed and its not a huge cost to have a low-pressure line but at least it gives a clean and dedicated water source to our community.
WT - Nathan, I appreciate you doing this. Iím going to check in in a month or two and see how this is all going and were going to do another interview when your plant is sending out clean fresh water and ill touch base with you then if thatís ok. Thanks for doing this.
Chief Pasap - Yep, thank you so much and you guys stay safe.
WT - You too.
The saga of long-term water advisories in First Nations communities
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