Members of the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) will be sent to Neskantaga First Nation in Ontario to assist in the ongoing evacuations as the community struggles with a water crisis, the country’s safety minister says.
In a tweet Tuesday evening, Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Bill Blair said the federal government has approved a request from Ontario to assist the community.
“The @CanadianForces will be supporting the community on the ground,” he wrote. “We will always be there for those who need it most.”
Members of Neskantaga First Nation in northwestern Ontario have been largely evacuated over an ongoing water crisis in the community.
The remote community consisting of 460 on-reserve members is located approximately 430 kilometres northeast of Thunder Bay, and is accessible only by air or ice-road.
It has been under a boil water advisory for more than 25 years.
However, last week, a new problem was detected, when an “unknown sheen” was found on the community’s water reservoir.
The discovery prompted a shut-off of water, which ultimately led to the evacuation of the community’s most vulnerable members.
On Saturday, though, Neskantaga Chief Chris Moonias upgraded to a full evacuation after test results revealed high levels of hydrocarbons in the water supply.
Social media posts from Moonias over the weekend indicated families and children were out of the community by 10:30 p.m. Saturday.
He reported that a few people stayed behind out of a sense of duty.
“I don’t want to take away the heart and soul from the community,” a Sunday Twitter post from the chief said. “I support and respect their decision. Those are true warriors!”
In an email to Global News, a spokesperson for CAF said the force has “received a request for assistance,” and are “rapidly coordinating CAF support as part of the Government of Canada response.”
According to CAF, the tasks of Canadian Rangers will include “providing logistical and general support” which includes, but is not limited to “evacuation assistance” and “resupply and humanitarian assistance.”
Canadian Rangers will also integrate into the local Emergency Operations Centre command post.
In a tweet Tuesday evening, National Defense Minister Harjit Sajjan said CAF members “will be there for the Neskantaga First Nation.”
“We’re here for every community that needs us from coast to coast to coast,” he wrote.
A request for comment on the announcement sent to Chief Moonias was not immediately returned.
However, in an interview with Global News last week, Moonias called the situation in his community “emotional” and “heartbreaking.”
“You hate to see your relatives, your children, your future living in this condition,” he said. “And there seems to be no end, it’s one problem after another.”
Last week Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller, said he was “deeply concerned” by the situation, and said Indigenous Services Canada would spend $16.44 million on a new water treatment plant and upgrades to the water distribution system and wastewater collection system.
“The new water treatment plant is near completion and work is underway on the distribution system,” he wrote on Twitter.
However, Moonias told Global News these are “band-aid solutions,” saying the community needs both a new treatment plant and a new distribution system.
“That’s not what we wanted,” he said. “We have been arguing, we have been saying all along that it needs a complete overhaul.”
-With files from The Canadian Press