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Northwest Angle #33 First Nation calls for federal help with their drinking water

First Nations drinking waterNorthwest Angle #33 First Nation has declared a State of Emergency given the presence of radionuclides and lead in their drinking water.

The First Nation is a member of the Anishinabeg of Kabapikotawangag Resource Council, a regional tribal council that is a member of the Grand Council of Treaty 3. The First Nation is located near Kenora in northwestern Ontario, about 40 kilometres northeast of Shoal Lake 40 First Nation and about 200 kilometres east of Winnipeg.

A research paper has noted, “Radionuclides are types of atoms that are radioactive. The most common radionuclides in drinking water are radium, radon and uranium. Most [but not all] of the radionuclides in drinking water occur naturally at very low levels and are not considered a public health concern. …People who are exposed to relatively high levels of radionuclides in drinking water for long periods may develop serious health problems, such as cancer, anemia, osteoporosis, cataracts, bone growths, kidney disease, liver disease and impaired immune systems.”

Norma Girard, the First Nation’s land manager, has stated, “Our community out there has been plagued with a high cancer rate. So Northwest Angle 33 was just recently approved by Health Canada for a cancer study.”

APTN reports, “Northwest Angle #33 First Nation Chief Darlene Comegan said in a statement that her community is tired of being ignored by both provincial and federal governments and is calling on them to take immediate action to help. ‘In light of the federal government’s plan to ensure clean drinking water for First Nations … we are living in third world conditions and it is just not acceptable. It is beyond Chief Comegan’s understanding that we can be forgotten by everyone’, the statement read. The chief and other leadership met with a cancer study team in Toronto last week to come up with a plan to address the high cancer rates found in the community and surrounding area believed linked to their water source.”

The news report adds, “The reserve is … only accessible by boat in the summer time and ice road in the winter. Leadership is further concerned about the upcoming spring breakup that will make it more difficult to deliver clean drinking water [bottled water]. The problem extends to a lack of access to electricity that could power a proper water treatment plant.”

CBC notes, “The First Nation, which has about 30 full-time residents, has been under boil-water advisories at all three of its water stations, since 2011.”

News reports have not indicated the source of the radionuclides in the water. The research report notes that they can be naturally occurring at very low levels or be caused by human activity (such as facilities that use radioactive substances, coal/lignite power plants and other industrial processes).

In July 2010, the United Nations General Assembly recognized the human rights to water and sanitation.

On Dec. 29, 2015, federal Indigenous Affairs minister Carolyn Bennett repeated her government’s election time pledge to ensure safe drinking water for all First Nations within five years. The Trudeau government’s first budget will be delivered on March 22 – World Water Day – and we look forward to a serious financial commitment to fulfilling the rights to water and sanitation for Indigenous peoples in that budget.

Further reading
Northwest Angle #33 declares state of emergency over drinking water problems (CBC)
Ontario First Nation declares state of emergency after radioactive particles found in local water source (APTN)