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ORIGINAL SAPOTAWEYAK WATER TREATMENT PLANT LOCATED IN THE WRONG PLACE AS A COST-EFFICIENCY MEASURE
Phone interview with Chief Nelson Ganaille, May 27, 2021. The transciption below has been edited for clarity and length.
WT – Hi Chief Nelson, thanks for doing this. I’d like to ask if you could tell me a little bit about your community, where it is, how many people live there.
Chief Genaille - Okay, my community is a Sapotaweyak Cree Nation, I have about eleven hundred people living in our community and we’re on the Lake Winnipegosis Bay basin, I guess you would call it, Central Manitoba, Treaty 4 territory.
WT – Can you tell me how long have you been under a boil water advisory?
Chief Genaille - We were under boil water since basically about 2016 or 2017, I’m not really exactly sure but I know why we went under boil water, because the water plant took its water, what you call surface water, from the river itself. We have an adjacent lake upriver, upstream. It’s called Swan Lake, where a lot of the farm field waste goes into the lake. So, it was the treatment contractor that identified this is the best place to take water at that time, back in 1994, which was river water. As we all know river water is the most potent water you can take and try to try to treat.
WT – So the 1,100 people that are there now, they’re getting their water from the plant that’s in the wrong place is that correct or do I have this wrong?
Chief Genaille – Yeah, back in 1994 I guess they didn’t really look at where it was better to take the water from, so they took it from the river. At that time, it was cost-efficient is what I was told. You know, the plant had already met its capacity in regard to membership back in 1994 to today in 2016 – 18 years, am I correct?
WT – Yeah, so tell me are people in your community today, if they went to their tap, they can’t drink that water, is that accurate?
Chief Genaille – Before, when we used old water treatment plant not, but now you can. Now with the new plant that begun operation on Monday, May 17th we turned on the taps of the new water plant, so now you're able to.
WT – Oh, that’s amazing. Took long enough. How much did the plant cost do you know?
Chief Genaille – Roughly about 14 million.
WT – Do you have a distribution system, pipes and so on, that are new or is this using the old distribution pipes?
Chief Genaille – Currently they added one line to increase the capacity out to the distribution system but at the same time you know, we have the existing ones that are there right now. The company that was there flushed the lines, drained the fire hydrants and curb stops and water was tested by Health Canada. Basically, come back today the water is very clean now, very nice. The water is being piped out, its coming from the lake actually about two kilometers out so it's not by the river now, it’s out by the lake where it’s a little deeper.
WT – Could I get your opinion on why this took so long?
Chief Genaille – Well, politically speaking, you know, we had a Progressive Conservative government there, you know, a party ruling across Canada that basically never ever thought about looking into Indigenous people's poor infrastructure whatsoever, that was one thing. Those were the Harper days. Then, the liberal government came on board and basically identified, saw and heard what was happening across Canada with water. So, without the liberal government in charge and having the mandate to deliver healthy drinking water to First Nations, we would still be in that same boat.
WT – I’m wondering now, going forward if you could offer words of wisdom to other chiefs that are in long term boil water advisories any advice, thoughts you could send to them?
Chief Genaille – Not necessarily to the Chiefs, but to the people who actually vote.
In my community I’ve been humbled enough to complete five terms as Chief, you know, and just recently elected to my sixth term. Without that continuance of leadership, we wouldn’t have a new water plant. We wouldn’t have the infrastructure development; we wouldn’t have the business development. So that (section) of the Indian act is damning to our people instead of for our First Nations because we have change of leadership.
I’ve seen a lot of leaders that you know were voicing concern for their people and actually doing their job right, only to be thrown out of office because of being forthright. Accountability comes from the people themselves too, you know, and accountability is proven by leadership. That’s something I would like to tell Chiefs and people you know, our people have to listen. We’re put in leadership capabilities because we have to have a vision of what we need for our people, so it’s a catch 22. The way I see it, the grassroot people are people in power, but at the same time the leadership that had vision on what they would need to do, or what they have to do, on the mandate given to them, you know they have to be given that power to be able to deliver. Sometimes you know we have treaty partners involved with this provincial government and federal representatives. Without everybody working together, we’re not going to get anywhere, so that’s something I would like to tell leadership. You know, they have to work together. Not only with government, but with our own people, themselves.
WT – This is a chance to use your voice and say something to the federal government. Would you have any advice to pass along?
Chief Genaille – Just to continue the dialogue, not only with leadership but with community members themselves directly. Sometimes communities are not given the opportunity to be funded well and adequately or given the business opportunity to deliver the services that they require. So sometimes we do need to hear from grassroot people but at the same time when were trying to deliver services to people not only living in the community but living off the community, there’s a disconnect. You know, back in… I forget what year, it was a decision that allowed First Nations people living in urban centers to vote, to be able vote in First Nations politics and because they are allowed to vote, they think that funding comes to them. You know that ain’t the fact.
We don’t get funding for people living off reserve, for that we have to seek outside revenue which is do business development. So, for us to do business development we have to be allowed to get out of our reservation boxe,s be given the opportunity to be a viable economic contributor to politics and society. So that is something I would like to say. Listen to the grassroots people, listen to the leadership because if you don’t understand the whole complex issue of being an Indian in Canada today, that’s what you need to know.
WT: You’re doing business development, that seems pretty clear. Can you give me some direction around what type of business development you looking to do or are doing right now?
Chief Genaille – Well, aside from being a chief I’m also the president of the Manitoba Treaty Land Entitlement of Manitoba. What that is, is 21 bands that were owed land upon signing a treaty, 21 bands who were not given the land entitlement that they were entitled to, so giving that back the land where I come from, which was an urban center in a town called Swan River. Out of ten thousand people there, how many people out of those shops were Aboriginal business owned entities? Zero at that time, but upon becoming chief in 2015 and 2020 I had the opportunity of setting up two businesses. One is a gaming establishment, and one is a petrol gas bar.
So, with these two entities, I’m able to tap into outside revenue sources, not from my own community but from an urban center. I have two urban reserves in the town of Swan River, contributing to our own revenue and our own shortfalls and funding. If that was given to First Nations across Canada – as you know there are people saying “Indians are basically nothing but a bunch of handouts" - give us opportunity to do business development and we wouldn’t be saying “give us this, give us that.”
At the same time, you know when Canada was being born and provincial governments were being born in the territories if we were given that opportunity of business development where we are now, we would be better off. If the land that was given to us back at the time of signing the treaty, the shoe would be on the other foot now. Where people that have residential homes, instead of paying a town they would be paying the First Nation in which territory they’re currently living on. So, I always say that in a good way you know, “who was here first”? When you look at land itself you know, we never sold the land we entered into treaty.
But when you take all the instruments involved in converting a piece of property and giving it to a business owner, a town/municipality, order-in-council being involved, it comes back to basically land that never was. (Comes back to) who was living there originally, which was the First Nations.
WT – Just to finish this interview, would you be willing to say to people that are reading this interview and in fact on another network be listening to this interview, would they be able to call you to ask for business development help or just instruction, some type of mentoring?
Chief Genaille – you know that’s something I was always preaching out to my membership. There’s nothing stopping you from being a business entrepreneur, there’s nothing stopping you from developing your own business. As a First Nations chief you know, If I had that vision of not doing anything and just basically funds that were given to our First Nations we wouldn’t get anywhere.
So, we have to think outside the box and basically do it and if you’re going to do it you’re going to accomplish it, so we have to have that mentality of where’s that glass at right now? Is it half full or half empty? For myself it’s half empty because I want it full, right. So, I’m thinking the other way around, its going down, you know. Then that positivity of trying to develop something is just basically defeated yourself already right off the hop.
So, I always say that the glass is half full, but I want it full. Once I have it full, I’m able to do what I want to do, not only as an individual but as a leader too.
WT – Chief Nelson id like to thank you for doing this good luck in the future and with all your endeavors.
The saga of long-term water advisories in First Nations communities
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