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Water Today Title April 21, 2024

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First Nations Water

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WT staff

The transciption below has been edited for clarity and length.

Chief Michael Starr, Star Blanket Cree Nation March 22, 2021 WT- Hello Chief Starr, thank you for doing this.

Chief Starr - Thank you, your welcome.

WT-Can you tell my viewers where you are, how many people are in the community and a little bit about where you live?

Chief Starr - Ok, I am on the Star Blanket Cree Nation out in Saskatchewan, Canada. We have approximately 475 members registered to our Cree nation. About half of that live in our community, so we have about 283 roughly.

WT- You’ve been under long term boil water advisory since Jan 10 2007. Can you tell us how this came to be and what state you’re at now, because this looks to me like going on 14 years, this seems a really long time for boil water advisory.

Chief Starr - Ok I’ll do my best to answer. Yes, it has been a long time. We have a water treatment plant that is deteriorating, as we all know, from time, so we do our best to upkeep it. We keep upgrading it to the extent that we can do it. We’ve been piecemealing it over time trying to get off boil water but all of the things we have done do not work. So, we continue to be on boil water advisory.

Currently our status, we’ve been able to receive a letter from ISC (Indigenous Services Canada), indicating that we are approved for a new water treatment plant, but it has taken a lot of time. We’ve been at it for 2-3 years since 2017 when we first started this and only last year received that letter. It has been a long time, it has been frustrating, but we are hoping that this year, I am advocating for it more and more as much as I can. I talk with the Minister, I talk with the Regional Director General of our region and they assure me its coming, but when we do our work as our project team, our team people that we have on our team they are frustrated with the people that we have working with us. We comply as much as we can to make it a good fit for our community that's how our engineers looked at, we have designs in place.

When we do submit them they are always, they do not accept them, they want them different. They want it different so that is frustrating for us where we feel we have a good design for the amount of people we have in our community so we are ready to build, and that is what our hope is, to get to that point where we can start the project. Having said that we did get some initial dollars to begin the project so we’ve been doing those kinds of things since last year to prepare for the water treatment plant facility but it just hasn’t arrived yet from our design perspective.

WT- When do you think this water plant will arrive in your community?

Chief Starr - As I stated I’m hoping this year, but it just depends on when ISC releases to their specification to their design of what that they want. Its not what our community wants or what we want its what their engineers want and that’s the frustrating part ,so whenever they accept that then I feel were ready to build. I know from the government perspective, from ISC perspective that they were supposed to be completed getting our communities off boil water advisory by the spring of 2020 so we’re not quite there yet. So I’m hoping whether it be this fall that our project means go. It should have been here already but right now our next goal is this fall that we would start it. Even this summer our hope is that we can start in June 2021 and then compete it for the process it takes into the fall. It takes awhile to start as we know to build a building so that is what I can say on that perspective.

WT- A month ago Minister Miller in an interview with Watertoday.ca told this reporter that if a band or community was having trouble because of whatever reason, bureaucracy or you thought you weren’t getting anywhere he told this reporter that anyone could call him. Do you think that would help out right now?

Chief Starr - Well we have made that call and he didn’t promise me it would be here, he said he would take a look at it. Again, that’s the frustrating part when you make those kinds of calls to the minister directly so we were able to do that as I indicated. But I was hoping he would give me a solid answer that OK its going to be coming this spring as indicated starting in June but it didn’t happen. So once again its in their bureaucratic system and it is taking time to get the building approved. We got the funding approved but the building hasn’t been approved because of design delays from ISC.

WT- So for next question when I do these interviews around native communities and water what I usually find is that ISC puts out press releases saying OK we’ve put 1.8 Billion dollars into this, we’ve moved on to that , we’ve done this and it sort of turns boil water advisories into sort of a government speak and I’m trying to get a sense for my viewers from you about what its like to live with a long term boil water advisory in your community. How does it affect the people, what goes on because of a boil water advisory in your community?

Chief Starr - From that perspective we’ve been managing through, our people are patient but at times they do get frustrated themselves. Its trusting the water even once our advisory comes off because they are so accustomed to purchasing their own water. They are buying their water from the local towns, local stores that provide that service. So they are going out to in our community Balcarres, Fort Qu’Appelle, Melville which is about half an hour away so they are hauling their water from that perspective. They are utilizing our water, they boil it some of them have to use it so some of them do boil it. For our wastewater management they do use it from that perspective so but its trusting it to drink is what’s frustrating for our members.

WT- Do you have something to say to our viewers from your perspective about going through the bureaucratic process I see a lot of comments from people around boil water advisory stories do you have sort of one thing you would like to get out to our viewers about this?

Chief Starr - I just hoped from ISC perspective, its just approving it that’s just as much as I can say they need to approve it. As I indicated our project team has a comfortable design from our prescriptive to build a water treatment plan its just unacceptable from ISC's perspective. If that process could be eliminated and be sooner than later, some of our response times that we receive, some of our submissions we submitted say on the first of the month and don’t get a reply for sometimes up to two to three months. So that process needs to be shorter. The bureaucratic system that I talk about they have to have more understanding of where our community is coming from.

We’ve complied from our perspective from the best we could, we did our best to put things into the current water treatment plant to make it where it could be brought off boil water advisory but it didn’t happen. I would just push a little harder for the process to not take as long. We are a patient community, we are a humble community but at times you want to go beyond that because of the frustrations we feel but I hold our Council back, I hold our team back, and then sometimes our members that get frustrated I do my best to hold them back and say this is what we need to do from a professional , dealing with the government as best we can, so we can move our community forward, so that is what I can say on that prospective.

WT- Chief Starr I am impressed by your patience. I just want to say thanks to Chief Michael Starr from the Star Blanket Cree community in Saskatchewan. Thanks very much for doing this.


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


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