Attawapiskat Chief Ignace Gull said he is optimistic about the future of his community following a commitment from the federal government to improve failing water systems on the remote First Nation.
Seamus O’Regan, the minister for Indigenous Services, was one of several government representatives who visited the community on Sunday for a town-hall style meeting, after a state of emergency was declared in Attawapiskat, earlier in July.
Alvin Fiddler, grand chief of Nishnawbe Aski Nation, a political organization representing First Nations in Northern Ontario, accompanied O’Regan on the tour of the fly-in community of approximately 2,000, located 500 kilometres north of Timmins, Ont.
Attawapiskat’s band council declared the state of emergency after water tests showed potentially harmful levels of trihalomethanes (THMs) and haloacetic acids (HAAs) in the tap water.
“[People] are concerned,” Gull said. “They can’t bathe, they can’t take a shower in it and they can’t wash their food or vegetables or anything that they have to do on a daily basis at their home.”
“People are really not in a very good mood or in a safe mood to keep using the water when it’s not safe to drink.”
“I am very optimistic, and I think that is something that we need to follow up with,” Gull said. “I know there’s a lot of work to be done, but this is something that I feel that can be done.”
“I’m very optimistic about it, and I’m happy that the minister came to our town and community with his senior officials and [Grand Chief Fiddler].”
Gull said the commitments include new filtration systems to replace the aging reverse osmosis systems currently in use, as well as a team of medical staff to assist elders and children.
Gull said he expects those teams to arrive next week.
But even with this, Gull said there is more work to do in the community.
“It’s not just the water issue, there’s also housing,” Gull said. “The sewage system has to be fixed up, the local system has to be fixed. This is something that the federal government is aware of.”
“They’ve been here a few times and they know what’s required. They know what’s needed to get the community back to where it should be.”