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AFTER A 12-YEAR WAIT, WASHAGAMIS BAY COMMUNITY REFUSES TO LIFT
ADVISORY UNTIL WATER IS FLOWING THROUGH THE PIPES
Interview with Washagamis Bay, Chief Marilyn Sinclair, May 13, 2021. The transciption below has been edited for clarity and length.
WT – I’m understanding that you’re under long term boil water advisory there. Can you tell me sort of how that came to be and how come the community’s got a water issue at all?
Chief Sinclair – We’ve been under boil water advisory I’ll say forever. At the moment we are building a new water treatment plant but beforehand we have, I’ll say we have one water treatment plant (source) that’s located within the middle of the community which is on a well. We get it from the well. It's very hard water with all the minerals in the water, we can’t drink the water. It causes a lot of damage to our hot water tanks and leaves lots of sediment in our pipes, so it's very hard. We don’t drink it; we bring water jugs into our communities so we can drink and cook with it.
WT – Is your community buying bottled water?
Chief Sinclair – We have a, I’ll say it's like a container, you know the transport containers? We built a little mobile water treatment plant and it gives water out to six houses down there. It gives water to six of our homes down there and then we have one major one here in the middle of our community that flows water to, I’ll just say 45 homes in the main part of the community.
We’ve started building a water treatment plant, it should be completed June of this year so we’re looking forward to that. The water comes right from our lake in Park Bay, so we’re very excited about that. They’re looking at flowing the water, testing the water probably in the next three weeks through all the pipes so we will see how our pipes will handle the pressure coming into those old pipes that we have. So hopefully everything will work out and I’m looking forward to it as we will be able to just tap it right out of our taps and drink it. I’m just finding that exciting.
WT- Yeah that is exciting. Let me ask you, how come do you think it took so long to come to this point where you’ve been under boil water advisory for years. Do you have any reason that you know of for the length of time?
Chief Sinclair – I don’t think it was a priority. That’s what I feel and think, it's not a priority. We have water in our community but it's not drinkable, so it was never a priority with Canada, and I think that’s where it sits. You know, I think when we make a lot of noise as First Nations people you know across Turtle Island, meaning we started to let the world know that we don’t have drinking water then you know, the government listens. I’m an Ojibway woman and we tend to shame people before we give them the opportunity to say “hey okay, we’re here to work with you” almost. So, it certainly has been, we live below standards and it shouldn’t be that way. We’re the first people here.
WT – I guess I should offer, has the Minister of Indigenous Services, has anyone been to your community?
Chief Sinclair – We’ve had Carolyn Bennet come into our community. I just got elected in 2017, so when I got elected in 2017, Grand Council Treaty 3 had access to invite all the Chiefs of Treaty 3 and hold our spring gathering. I believe it was 2018, we were honoured to host Grand Council Treaty 3 Chiefs at our spring assembly, so we had a lot of the politicians come into our community. That was my first visit with Carolyn Bennet to come in. So, yeah that was the first time she’s come into our community and it was to do with our hosting the Treaty 3 gathering.
WT – If you had something to say to Minister Miller today about all of this, what would you say?
Chief Sinclair- It’s funny you should say that. I’ve actually had a video conference with Minister Miller, I don’t have the exact date, but it wasn’t too long ago. It was a video conference; I can’t remember what day it was. It was more of a water advisory, he knows that we’re getting a new water treatment plant and with testing within our community we refused to lift the boil water advisory until the new water treatment was in place and we let Minister Miller know that.
WT – Did you feel you were under pressure to lift the boil water advisory?
Chief Sinclair – I felt that, I felt that, I felt that. We let them know; we let Minister Miller know and our tech people know and also Indigenous Services Canada know that we're not going to lift the boil water advisory at this time and we’re going to wait till our water treatment plant is flowing water.
WT – What was their reply when you said that to them?
Chief Sinclair – There was nothing they can say, nothing they said. They just left it at that.
WT – When this new plant fires up in a week or two, do you have a lot of confidence in the pipes that are currently in the ground that their going to be able to deliver this water with the new pressure, what are you thinking around that?
Chief Sinclair – I’m going to wait and see, I’m optimistic so I’m going to wait and see.
WT – Can I ask you if I could call in a week or say a month because I’d like to follow this up and make sure that this works.
Chief Sinclair – Sure, I’d love a call.
WT – Ok, so I think I’m going to leave the interview there for now, and what I’m going to do Chief Sinclair is call you in a month and the reason why is because I want to know if the pipes work, if everything works. If not, I would like to have watertoday.ca intervene down here if necessary, to accelerate whatever it is that you need done. This is just in my mind, just ridiculous that you waited this long to give your community clean water. That’s just not something that would happen in Ottawa or Toronto.
Chief Sinclair – No, no I definitely agree, I do. It's not just water its infrastructure, and our housing. You know it's just not right now First Nations people are treated by the government.
WT – Everybody should have a house up to standard with clean water I totally agree with you there. How many houses are you looking for? Give me a bit around the housing situation Chief Sinclair.
Chief Sinclair – Well we haven’t had any new builds, I got elected in 2017. We haven’t seen any new builds probably in 10 years, so when we got elected in 2017, we actually had built five homes to date, they’re almost done. We have four modular homes coming into our community, I’m hoping by mid-June. They will be installed and completed with standards.
WT – Ok, that’s a beginning. How is your community center?
Chief Sinclair – Nine homes being completed and that’s our priority for the next you know for the next five years is get more homes in place. Look at extending the water lines in place so we’re looking at some really good upgrades within the next five years.
WT – Are you a fly in remote community or are you connected by the highway?
Chief Sinclair – We’re connected by the highway, we are.
WT – Thanks very much Chief, have a nice day.
The saga of long-term water advisories in First Nations communities
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