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A 36-year struggle

WT Interview with Chief Sarazin, Algonquins of Pikwakanagan First Nation
June 10, 2024

WT: Before we get into the new water plant under construction, you have an opioid crisis going on in your community, can you tell us about that?

Chief Sarazin: In Nov 2023 I declared a State of Emergency. A lot of our people live outside the community, but still part of the community, they are family members. The membership demanded we do something about (the overdose crisis) immediately. I declared State of Emergency to bring in additional resources. We have reached out to the Chiefs of Ontario, Assembly of First Nations, Ontario government resources, the health unit and other federal agencies involved for assistance.

WT: Have you got a handle on it now, with these agencies involved now, do you think it will be sorted out?

Chief Sarazin: We have a hands on approach, there are bi-weekly community updates so we can provide ongoing direction on how the State of Emergency is handled, on the harm reduction plans, issues on enforcement, investigation. We have seen a reduction in overdose deaths. I don't want to say we have solved the problem, but I can say we have addressed some of the issues.

WT: I understand you own businesses in the community. What is the major industry, where are people employed?
Chief Sarazin: General administration is the big one, private industry has come up dramatically over the last ten years or so, now rivals general administration for jobs.

WT: A May 6 CBC news article, Algonquin leaders seek answers on toxic sewage discharge at nuclear lab, you are quoted here saying you are not happy about the incident. Was this a radioactive discharge near your community?
Chief Sarazin: People assume there was a nuclear waste dump, these are inaccurate assumptions and inaccurate statements. We have a working relationship with Chalk River Nuclear Labs, we have ongoing and early dialogue as to how events go and we get fairly early input in all of that. I have not heard of any dumping of radioactive material, if that were the case we would surely not be happy about it.

As far as I know there has been no spillage of radioactive material into the Ottawa River. Non-compliant sewage was reported discharged. There is a sewage treatment facility at Chalk River Nuclear Labs, the water is discharged after it is treated and deemed safe for release into the environment. That is what happened, this is what continues to happen. The wastewater discharge is monitored. It was noticed that what was being discharged was not completely safe from a sewage standpoint. The non-compliant discharge was stopped, brought back to compliance. This is a normal course of business, now it is back under control, business as usual.

WT: How long have you been without potable water? How many people live in the community?
Chief Sarazin: 500 people live right here in the community. In 1988 Council identified need for safe and reliable drinking water. Many members don't have a drilled well. Many are drawing water from the (Ottawa) river. So the drive for safe and reliable water service to the membership began in 1988.

WT: I understand you have been re-elected Chief in the last year, so you were Chief back in 1988? Is that right?
Chief Sarazin: Yes. In March 2023 I was elected again as Chief.
WT: How have you had water, what was happening until now?

Chief Sarazin: We have over 200 residential buildings and community buildings in the First Nation. May of those have their own well. It has been the last 10 years that uranium was discovered in many of the houses and contaminating the wells. This is the drinking water issue. It's not safe, it's not healthy.

The new water plant will supply water to all the buildings.
WT: What can you do about something like that? Is there filtration that can help in the mean time?
Chief Sarazin: No, you need to close up the wells and hook up to the water plant when it is on-line.

WT: Are the (distribution) pipes there now?
Chief Sarazin: Not yet! Construction only began in September 2023. It will be done in 2025.

WT: I wish you good luck with the response to your overdose crisis. We will get back with you after the water plant is completed and on-line.

Chief Sarazin: Good, thank you.

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