The Grand Chief of the Nishnawbe Aski Nation (NAN) said he was “disappointed” to hear the federal government acknowledge it would not meet the deadline it set for itself to end all long-term boil water advisories in First Nations.
The announcement was made on Wednesday by federal Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller, who instead announced more than $1.5 billion in long-term funding to help build “a sustainable system that ensures that First Nation communities have access to safe drinking water now and for generations to come.”
Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler welcomed the announcement of more money for long-term solutions, but said the announcement still doesn’t address the needs of people today.
“It’s disheartening for our communities, including Neskantaga [First Nation]. You know, their members are still here in Thunder Bay at a hotel. We don’t know when the repatriation process will begin. And it’s not just Neskantaga in NAN territory. We have a total of  boil water advisories impacting communities, including my own community of Muskrat Dam since 2004,” said Fiddler.
“So it’s something that we’ve been living with for a long time now.”
It was during the 2015 federal election that Liberal Party leader Justin Trudeau promised to end all boil water advisories on First Nations within five years — which later translated to March 2021. The government even created a website page to track their progress.
But during a briefing on Wednesday, senior officials with Indigenous Services Canada said they expect 22 First Nations will still be under a boil water advisory beyond the spring of 2021.
The federal minister added the goal of March 2021 “was made to drive forward actions to address drinking water issues and … this approach has worked.”
“Over 600 water and wastewater projects have been initiated in First Nations communities; 97 long-term drinking water advisories were lifted and importantly, 171 long-term advisories were prevented [by resolving the issues before a short-term advisory turned into a long-term one],” Miller said.
He added that the long-term funding will help end all boil water advisories, cover ongoing maintenance costs and improve the training and retention of water plant operators in communities.
Fiddler said moving forward, the federal government must commit to doing this work in close collaboration with First Nations.
“We will feel a bit more comfortable about all this when we see all these commitments in writing and a commitment to work with us in a way that reflects true partnership.”