Residents of a First Nations community in Canada, who were deprived of clean water for nearly a quarter of a century, are now able to drink from their taps after a water treatment facility became fully operational earlier this week.
Shoal Lake 40, a community on the Manitoba-Ontario border, has been under a drinking water advisory since 1997.
On Wednesday, residents celebrated the opening of the community’s water treatment plant worth 33 million Canadian dollars (26 million US dollars).
“It’s amazing, and it’s also time,” Vernon Redsky, head of Shoal Lake 40 First Nation, told reporters.
Until recently, the only way to enter or leave the community was to cross the lake on a summer barge or on a winter road, making it too expensive to transport construction materials to build a water treatment plant. Plans for a treatment plant were scrapped in 2011 after the federal government objected to the price.
In 2019, a 24-km (15-mile) all-season highway, dubbed “Freedom Road,” was built, connecting the community to the Trans-Canada highway system and spurring construction of the new plant.
“It is the end of years of struggles trying to meet the basic needs of life, clean drinking water,” resident Angelina McLeod told the Canadian Press.
Shoal Lake 40’s inability to access clean water has been one of the longest-running crises in the country, and a source of embarrassment to the federal government, a minister admitted Wednesday.
“This is not a victory for the federal government, it is a victory for the community,” said Marc Miller, the country’s indigenous services minister, at the event.
For generations, Canada has been unwilling to guarantee access to clean water for indigenous peoples, and supplies in dozens of communities are considered unsafe to drink.
“It is unacceptable in a country that is financially one of the richest in the world and rich in water, and the reality is that many communities do not have access to clean water,” Miller told The Guardian in an interview earlier this year.
Justin Trudeau said his administration was still committed to ending long-term boil-water warnings, a promise liberals first made during the 2015 election campaign.
“The indigenous peoples who have lived on that land for generations and millennia cannot drink the water. We are fixing that, ”the prime minister said Wednesday.
Federal government data show that there are still 51 long-term drinking water advisories in 32 communities. A total of 109 warnings have been withdrawn since November 2015.
In early August, the federal government settled C $ 8 billion in two class action lawsuits with First Nations communities over access to clean water.
The agreement promises to compensate residents, ensure drinking water infrastructure is built, and modernize legislation – something First Nations leaders have been demanding for decades.