After years of boil-water advisories, a group of volunteer auto workers has brought potable water to the Little Salmon/Carmacks First Nation.
Fifty-seven contaminated wells were fixed by members of the Canadian Auto Workers union.
The union paid their way; the First Nation provided the materials.
The Toronto-based union has branded the project as providing support to a community forgotten by the government, say autoworkers’ representatives.
Canadian Auto Workers president Buzz Hargrove and Assembly of First Nations National Chief Phil Fontaine toured the well construction last summer.
“Basic rights such as clean drinking water should not be left to the private sector or nongovernmental organizations to pick up the slack where governments have failed,” said Hargrove.
“The federal government refused to take responsibility as it did not meet their criteria for funding. Instead, they bought the community a large truck to deliver water to the older residents and confined,” read a May release by the autoworkers.
Ottawa has spent $800,000 on Band-Aid upgrades to the community’s water supply, such as shock chlorination and water and sewer trucks.
“The government should be ashamed of themselves for not doing more,” said Mike Michaud, skilled trades co-ordinator for the union.
“Little Salmon/Carmacks is a self-governing First Nation, and, as such, is responsible for the water systems in the community,” said Shari Borgford, director of strategic investment for Indian and Northern Affairs.
A federal fund does exist to upgrade First Nations’ water supplies, but only if they serve five or more homes.
Many Little Salmon/Carmacks members are served by individual wells, making them ineligible for funding.
“Other First Nations have gotten (government) money for the same kind of water situation: Champagne, Teslin, Carcross,” said Eddie Skookum, chief of the Little Salmon/Carmacks First Nation.
“We were the first to voice our opinions about (the water situation), and, instead, they just gave the money to the other First Nations,” he said.
In 2005, community wells were shown to be at risk for E. coli
—the bacteria responsible for the Walkerton tragedy.
The year before, two Little Salmon/Carmacks members became ill after drinking contaminated water.
The wells, originally installed by Indian and Northern Affairs Canada, were “too shallow” and “too close to septic tanks,” said a 2008 report by the Polaris Institute.
“It’s not a safe source of water,” said Jillian Chown of Vista Tek, a Whitehorse-based engineering consultant firm.
Wells were also being contaminated by runoff from the Carmacks solid-waste facility.
“Hopefully, through all the good publication that will come out of this, other companies and organizations will step up to assist First Nations’ needs,” said Michaud.
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