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Water Today Title April 14, 2024

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WT Interview with Chief Skead, Wauzhushk Onigum Nation, August 20, 2021. The transciption below has been edited for clarity and length.

WT - Thanks for doing this.

Chief Skead - No problem, thank you for having me this morning.

WT - So, can you tell me, tell our viewers the state of your water system now, I read that YOU expectED completion in 2020. How is it now?

Chief Skead - Yes, it’s been operational now since last October. We did a ceremony with the City of Kenora as well as the federal government and the community. We’re hooked up to the City of Kenora and we’ve been off of boil water advisory now going on almost a year. Yeah, we have the cleanest, safest drinking water, to Ontario’s standards. That’s definitely a win-win for Wauzhushk Onigum.

WT - Can you tell me what that’s like? I do so many interviews with so many bands that haven’t yet finished the plans or finished the infrastructure or finished the design. I understand you had no clean water for a long, long time. I want to know what it's like, do people like the water, was the chlorine an issue, how many people are on the system? Tell me all about it.

Chief Skead - Currently we have 700 on the band list of Wauzhushk and a little over 300 that live in the community. It did take a little getting used to, there was hesitancy because of how we used to get our water, we would have a jug that would be transported into Wauzhushk, so everybody would be limited to two jugs of water per household and that seemed to be the norm for a number of years. Once we were hooked up to the City of Kenora to get that clean water, that safe drinking water, you know it still takes a little while to get used to and there’s some hesitancy

Being under a boil water advisory for so many years, it’s still kind of a work in progress getting used to drinking out of our taps. When I went and spoke with the membership everybody is very, very pleased with having that water especially when we give our young children a bath it's safe to do so, as well as safe to drink. We didn’t have that previously, you know, our water was almost copper looking when it came out of the tap, and we would bathe our children in there. Fast forward to where we are now, a lot of people not only drink our water but have our children bathe in the cleanest, safest drinking water that we have to Ontario’s standards of course.

WT - That’s just wonderful. How much did the plant cost and sort of how long did it take to build? How did this all work, this comes from Kenora, its not a water plant in your community?

Chief Skead - We do have a water treatment plant in our community, it's not a full-blown water treatment plant, it’s just kind of like a flow-through that comes from the city of Kenora but at the other end of the community we have these centralized systems. They are like little water treatment plants per household and we’re still working out a few kinks here and there just in regard to the system itself, it’s very sophisticated takes a while to get used to. But we have these facilities within the community.

WT - That’s just marvelous. What’s the next big project you’re taking on? I understand there’s something in the pipe, hey?

Chief Skead - Yes there is. We have multiple projects happening because the areas that the system sits on is designated as commercial development. We went to ratification about 5 years ago, I guess to get it designated. We worked through the process with the Federal Government, and we do have a master plan in place. When we first initiated the kind of infrastructure, I guess we wanted to make sure we had the correct diameter of pipes to accompany any type of expansion, you know, a potential hotel, as well as the administration office that multiple organizations used within the city of Kenora. So, we had all that in play and then obviously what happened out West in regard to Residential School, unfortunately finding the young children that never left the grounds, and we actually have that in my community as well.

It's St. Mary’s Residential School and it was constructed in 1897 and closed in 1972. So, we have actually funding in place to work through that process, survivor-driven, because on this designated area this is where that former residential school sits as well. So, we kind of put things in abeyance, put things on hold just in regards so we could kind of work through that process with the survivors of my community.

WT - With respect, I understand that both as a reporter and as a human being. My condolences all the way around for this.

Chief Skead - And miigwech for that. We’re actually going to be hosting a long-term care facility on my community. We’re looking at 160 to 280 beds and part of that project would be the water and sewer services to accompany such a building. We’re working through that with Kenora Chief Advisory, so there’s a lot of moving parts within the community and obviously, one of the first steps was getting not only the safe, clean drinking water for our community but it also allows us to do some potential economic development opportunities on behalf of the Wauzhushk Onigum membership.

WT - My understanding, at least my limited understanding, there is a hotel that you want to get developed. There is the elders’ residence that you want to get developed and then I also heard just in passing that you were looking at some energy projects. Is that accurate or is that just another rumor?

Chief Skead - Well we have been kind of looking at that, we have applied for funding and received it to have an Independent Electricity System Operator (IESO) for the next 3-4 years in my community. Part of his role is going to be looking for further funding but also retrofitting our eventuall administration complexes, things like that. Just in regard to clean energy, just because I know the cost of hydro is enormous, especially in the north here.

WT - Have the Ring of Fire Chiefs talked to you about mutual projects and conceivable energy sharing, this kind of thing? I know where Kenora is, and to me, it would make sense. Can you give me a sense of what’s going around your community with other native communities?

Chief Skead -Yeah, obviously each community is unique and very sovereign in regard to how they approach their respective communities. I know I haven’t been approached by any type of community in regard to the Ring of Fire. I know Treaty 3 area is very rich in minerals and resources just in regard to prospecting, mining and things like that, especially the forestry sector as well. I know we’re slowly but surely working with our respective tribal councils, we’re affiliated with the AKRC and that’s part of their mandate to kind of help us, just in regard to prospecting and things like that just to make sure our treaty rights are protected first and foremost and that if there are any types of issues or concerns, we have an opportunity to sit at a table and bring those concerns up.

WT - When you bring those concerns up do you feel heard around mining and forestry?

Chief Skead - Yes, we do. I’m not sure where the information goes from there, if it goes to the, I guess it would be Minister Rickford just in regard to the provincial stuff. You know, obviously, we do get that information relayed and conveyed to them that if there are any type of concerns and hopefully it can be mitigated and first and foremost our treaty rights respected and heard and listened to, and obviously adhered to.

WT - What treaty number applies to your community?

Chief Skead - We are Treaty 3 territory. There are 28 communities in our beautiful territory that encapsulates the 55 thousand square miles of lands and of course the water.

WT- I’m going to wrap this up. I want to say in some way that we share your sorrow of the past and you’re outlook to the future is just really optimistic and it’s been really wonderful to talk to you.

Chief Skead - Thank you very much. I know I did multiple interviews just in regard to the residential school as well as obviously other concerns and areas that come with the leadership, but I want to take this opportunity to thank you for inviting me this morning. The media as well helps us make sure our voices are amplified to kind of educate our fellow treaty partners, which obviously you are Canadian, but our signing of the treaty was the Federal Government of course but I really try to take as many opportunities as I can to make sure our voices are heard. It’s fine people like yourself that give me an opportunity to do that. I really appreciate you taking the time to have this discussion with me this morning and I really appreciate it from the bottom of my heart.Giga-waabamin naagaj, we don’t say goodbye- what I said translates to see you around, see you later.

WT - Yes, great, same to you also, have a really good day.


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


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