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PEEPEEKISIS CREE NATION: 'RODENTS AND WHATNOT' IN CRACKED AND FLOOD-PRONE CISTERNS
The transciption below has been edited for clarity and length.
WT - This is an interview with Frank Deiter, the chief of the Peepeekisis Cree Nation. He is joined by Headman Allan Bird and Cordell Pinay Director of Public Works. Chief Dieter, can you tell my viewers a little bit about your community, where you are? How many folks live there and what your water source is?
Chief Dieter - We're roughly a hundred and twenty-five kilometers northeast of Regina, Saskatchewan. We have roughly six hundred seventy members on the nation, with a total band population of thirty three hundred that are scattered throughout the world if you want to call it that. Just found out that we have members in Japan.
Right now, we have a water treatment plant where we get our water from and we truck it to our houses and put it into cistern tanks. We do have a town site that is piped in from the water treatment plant and our infrastructure buildings are also piped in.
WT - Ok, so I'll get to the next question then. If someone on your team wants to identify himself and tell our viewers a bit more about how water is managed on the reserve, I'm trying to get an understanding of who regulates the drinking water in your community, how the water is distributed. And I'm trying to really understand how these boil water advisories came to be in your community.
Cordell Pinay- Hello, Cordell Pinay here, I'm the Public Works director for Peepeekisis Cree Nation, I can answer those questions. Let's start the story from the beginning here. We have 96 cisterns that we haul water to. And basically, you know, these are concrete cisterns. They're very porous inside. We have to clean those cisterns every year. Sometimes twice a year, just to keep up with basic maintenance so that the bacteria does not grow in them. A lot of times we have chlorine to clean those systems.
So, these 96 cisterns take a lot more than just cleaning for maintenance. Sometimes they crack we have to replace them. Sometimes the waterlines crack or, you know, housing issues where oxidation takes place within the homes, toilets, baths, water heaters, things like that. We have a biological system here now in Peepeekisis. We just finished a project to turn from green science to biological. Our water here is much better than it has been in the past so trucking that clear purified water to the cisterns is not something that we want to continue on with.
Getting to your question about the boil water advisories, The File Hills Qu'Apelle Tribal Council's health team determines, whether through testing or the policies in place that determine when water advisories should be issued. So, we have a close contact with them weekly. They come out to the First Nation and they test the water and, you know, they give us reports back and we're able to determine where the healthy water is going.
So basically, within our community, 96 cisterns usually turn up bad. But the 17 houses that we have on the distribution are always fine. How do we combat trying to distribute healthy water to our community members? It's basically a weekly battle.
WT - OK. so there's 17 houses that are on a public distribution system and 96 cisterns. In your mind, then, what needs to be done to fix these 96 cisterns and the continuing boiled water advisory situation. If you could tell our viewers what you would like to do to fix this?
Cordell Pinay - We had a feasibility study done a few years ago through one of the consultants for our First Nation here, and they told us basically how much it's going to cost to connect every house to our water treatment plant. We brought this feasibility study to 'ISK' and we were told that the policy in Saskatchewan is to provide $10,000 per house connection to this future distribution system. But that only covers $1.2 million of the total $8 million the project will cost. So the burden is on our band to connect all these houses.
WT - Can you repeat the name of this organization that you approached to get your feasibility study funded? I'm trying to explain to our viewers, when a community is under boil water advisory, it isn't as simple as what some of our viewers think. And to me, if something's not fixed and I don't have enough money in the bank to fix it and I'm asking someone else to give me the money to fix it, can they not get the money? How come it stops at this one $1.2 million and then it's like nothing happened?
Allan Bird - Allan Bird, here. I'm the headman of the Housing and Public Works portfolio. I work with Frank and Cordell. The organization we apply to for funding is Indigenous Services Canada (ISC). It's their fiduciary responsibility to assist the First Nations with the development of our water, which is very, very important because, you know, water is the source of life. Peepeekisis Chief and Council have been at the table with ISC numerous times, and we have requested funding many times. We understand that they have a policy in place but the Peepeekisis will still go to that table and we're not done. As Cordell said, we have our engineers, they provided us with the numbers we need to take to that table. We will go to the district level. We will go to the regional level, and we will go to the national level to go and share our needs for our communities so that our people will have the water and a distribution system that they deserve as Indigenous people of the land.
WT - Have you approached everybody all the way up at this point?
Allan Bird - We have put the seed to national level. We have met the district level who works well with us, our representative there supports, and he helps us. But he cannot ok the funding. At the regional level, we have a meeting coming up on March 11th again, and Chief has an agenda set up for numerous items. We're going to be asking for full funding, instead of this policy of a formula that's $10,000 per unit. We will make those formulas. We've been asking for years and years to have that input to sit at that formula table.
WT - Have you considered court action to have these funds sent, sent to your community?
Allan Bird - No , it might have been put around the table but we haven't taken that step at this time because, like I said, our next step after we meet Regional on March 11th, Chief will probably request to go to Ottawa and to share our concerns.
WT - A week ago, I did an interview with Minister Miller (ISC). And he said to me in that interview that if a band has water issues and they're not getting solved, that he encouraged the band to reach out to him directly. Is that something that you'd be prepared to do?
Chief Dieter - That is something we would be prepared to do. Back in when Stephen Harper was prime minister, and tried to force solutions down our throats, First Nations groups stood their ground and 74 nations actually took this issue to the U.N. In the end, 54 nations agreed to support us, but I don't know what type of support they gave us other than their hands raising in the air. From there only two nations from Saskatchewan, Peepeekisis and Thunderchild, have kept at it. So we will be going to Ottawa or setting up some sort of media meeting with Ottawa pretty quickly here.
WT - Ok, just a couple of quick last questions then. When I go home and I take a shower, I presume I have clean water coming out of the tap to wash and make a coffee, can you tell us how this affects the people themselves in your community, do you have specific instances that you can refer to?
Chief Deiter - Well, you know, we just finished our water treatment renovation expansion, which was nice. All clean water since the change from reverse osmosis to biological filtration. The drinking water comes out nice and clean, then when we put it into our water trucks, it get contaminated, when we put it into a cistern, the contamnition accumulates.
So when it goes through the pipes to the house, it's contaminated twice. So, every year we get our tanks cleaned twice a year and rodents fall in there, everything falls in there. You know, we had that major flooding here in Saskatchewan two years ago, I believe. Around 2013-14 we had lots of snow pack and it caused major flooding in Saskatchewan, well, some of our cisterns were underwater, so all the spring runoff would go in there and whatnot. It was terrible. Like Cordell says, we just don't get enough money to fix that infrastructure.
WT - So you need to get rid of these cisterns and you need to run pipes to the to the homes themselves. Is that pretty much the end run of this feasibility study?
Chief Deiter - Yes. Distribution system to all 96 homes and as soon as we get that system. And if I'm still chief, then that's when we will lift the boil water advisory, but until then, it stays in place.
Allan Bird - And to add to that, Headman Bird here. Our next question is the maintenance of this new distribution system, will the funding be adequate? Again, there's another formula. Everything ISC works has a formula. So somebody over there in Ottawa in that big building brainstorms and figures out how much money should go to over 600 nations across Canada.
The saga of long-term water advisories in First Nations communities
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