First Nations Water
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UNDER BWA SINCE 2005, WAWAPAKEWIN BAND HAS TO FLY IN
BOTTLED WATER FROM THE NEAREST AIRPORT
Interview with Wawapakewin Chief, Anne Marie Beardy. The transciption below has been edited for clarity and length.
WT - Hello Chief Beardy, thanks for doing this. According to our research, your community has been under a boil water advisory since 2005. Can you tell me if thatís been lifted, and if not, what is the process, where are you at getting the water fixed now?
Chief Beardy - I have been the Chief there for eight years now, they were already on boiling water advisory, so its more than that, it has to be late 90ís when they couldnít drink water from the tap.
WT - So this is going back to the 90ís then?
Chief Beardy Ė Its been a while, maybe twenty years.
WT - What do you think the problem is?
Chief Beardy - We have a well, I donít recall when they set that water system there, thatís probably the main reason it wasnít safe to drink the water, so we just didnít bother to ever drink it again.
WT - So as of right now, your community still has no clean water?
Chief Beardy - No. We do laundry with it, thatís the only way we use it, and shower.
WT - If I live in your community, what do I have to do to get clean water, how does water work in my home if I live in your community now?
Chief Beardy - We have a water treatment plant, was supposed to get it done by mid-August, so we should have running and drinking water by hopefully end of August. From the new water treatment plant.
WT - Where do your folks get water right now?
Chief Beardy - We fly the water in.
WT - You fly it in?
Chief Beardy - Like I said, I have been Chief here for eight years, Iíve been doing that, and plus, we donít have an airport, its costing us a lot of money to do a charter for sixty cases of water maybe every other week. Our charter costs us about sixty five hundred, one load, for flying in our drinking water.
WT - I find that incredible, so $6500, does it come it from Thunder Bay?
Chief Beardy - We only use float planes and ski planes. We have no airport, so just the charter alone is sixty five plus the water, I donít have the right number to give you for that much water, twice a month at least, we get 60 cases of water, times that for eight years that Iíve been there, I donít know what they did before.
WT - I donít even know what to say, the logic of flying bottled in to an airport near you, then you go pick it up, how many people are in your community right now?
Chief Beardy - Right now thereís only about 30 people right now, but we have contractors there, like I said, we have that new water treatment project thatís happening right now, plus I have my other contractors working for the summer. Water goes really fast during the summer.
WT - Why would it take twenty or thirty years to get a water plant in your community that works? How would you explain this to someone drinking a glass of water in Toronto or Saskatoon or Montreal? What would you say to them, how come this took so long?
Chief Beardy - The previous Chief didnít push to get a new water treatment plant. It takes a while.
I donít know how many communities are in the same situation, [funding] isnít provided, we have to pay for water from our Band funds. The Band funding, thatís how we get money for different things, we try to find a way to pay for the [charter to bring bottled] water, I tried asking around to get help at least once a month, if we could get a load of water from somebody, but I never got anywhere.
Then this Covid started, thatís when everything kind of slowed down. I was supposed to have arranged some meetings, and that didnít happen, it just backed up. I didnít bother [rescheduling], since I will be getting the water treatment plant going in a month.
WT - I hope so! What does your community do with wastewater, it all goes into a lagoon, or does everyone have a septic tank, how does that work?
Chief Beardy - It goes to the lagoon.
WT - OK. So right now is there any pipes run to the houses? Once the water plant is in place, are there pipes that go to the houses, are they installed?
Chief Beardy: They are there already ready, we have running water, its just that we canít drink it. I donít know how many years they have been having running water at least, to do laundry and shower, I donít know how many years theyíve been operating like that.
WT - Of all of the Bands I have talked to, that are under BWA, I always ask them to put the human factor or human face on the statistics we always quote Ė we say ďthis many communities are under BWA, this much money was spentĒ , and I want to put the human face on it, what does it mean to your community to not have decent drinking water for twenty years, what that is like?
Chief Beardy - Iím not in the community right now, but it feels like when I come out from the community, I am so used to using bottled water to cook and stuff, when I come out to town its so easy to just turn your tap on, right? I was telling some of my Elders, I canít wait until we can do that, you know, its going to be something different, to just turn the tap on and drink your water.
WT - Given this is 2021, this is just incredible. I wish you will, we will call you back the end of August and ask you how your water plant is working, would that be ok?
Chief Beardy - That would be awesome.
The saga of long-term water advisories in First Nations communities
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