‘Deeply frustrated’: 60 evacuated from Neskantaga First Nation over water crisis

Neskantaga First Nation / Twitter

A First Nation community in northwestern Ontario that has been under a boil water advisory for more than 25 years says it is evacuating some of its members after a new issue with its water supply was discovered.

In a tweet just before 5 p.m. ET, Neskantaga First Nation Chief Chris Moonias said it is “disheartening and sad” that he has had to evacuate the elderly, infants, chronically ill and vulnerable people from the community for a second time during his tenure.

Read more: Northwestern Ontario First Nation evacuates community over water safety, asks feds for help

Moonias said the situation is especially sad amid the COVID-19 outbreak.

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Neskantaga First Nation is a remote community consisting of 460 members. It is located approximately 430 km northeast of Thunder Bay in Ontario, and is accessible only by air or ice-road.

Moonias told Global News about 60 members of the community were flown to Thunder Bay, and will be staying at a hotel.

According to Moonias, additional evacuations will be carried out on Wednesday.


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Earlier this week, an “unknown sheen” was discovered on the surface of the community’s water reservoir, which prompted a complete shut-off of the water supply on Monday.

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A press release issued Tuesday morning said samples of the water were taken to Nibi Water Services of Matawa First Nations Management on Monday. Results of those tests, however, could take up to 10 days.

“Once again, our community is dealing with another water treatment issue,” Moonias said in the release. “Although this one may (be) different from the ones we’ve seen in the past – it is still dehumanizing to have to ask for portable showers, portable water heaters, wet wipes and other hygienic and sanitary supplies during this crisis.”

Read more: Indigenous communities and water crises — is a real solution in the works?

Moonias said leaders are “deeply frustrated” that the First Nation has been “denied our human right to water for 9,393 days now.”

“We can’t help but feel that the ‘out of sight, out of mind’ situation has greatly contributed to governments dragging their feet on our crisis,” he said in the release.

What’s more, the community has also been struggling with low water reservoir issues for several months.

Moonias has called on Indigenous Services Canada (ISC) for “immediate support for solutions and evacuation of elders, infants and most vulnerable until the water plant is fully operational.”

He said community leaders met with federal officials to discuss a resolution and evacuation costs.

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Moonias said officials also said they will help expedite the water tests.

Global News sent a request for comment to ISC, but it was not immediately answered.

According to the release, the water will be shut off for an “undetermined” amount of time.

Leaders say this will negatively impact the community’s ability to respond to the novel coronavirus pandemic.

The move also means all services will be shut down, a move leaders say “gravely impacts community members’ quality of life.”

In September 2019, 250 members of Neskantaga First Nation were evacuated after untreated water began flowing from local taps and water pressure tapered off dramatically.

NAN Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler attributed the problem to a malfunctioning water treatment pump. He said the pump failure caused an immediate spike in visits to the local nursing station from residents complaining of skin irritation and other ailments.

The decline in water pressure, he added, also compromised the community’s capacity to respond to emergencies such as fires.

— With files from the Canadian Press