After four years of boil-water advisories and E. coli scares, Little Salmon/Carmacks First Nation is getting some help from an unlikely source.
On October 25, the Assembly of First Nations announced it had teamed up with the Canadian Auto Workers Union as part of its make poverty history campaign.
Little Salmon/Carmacks First Nation will be one of the first beneficiaries of this collaboration.
“We were given notice about a month ago,” said Chief Eddie Skookum.
“They identified a large number of projects, but (the Assembly of First Nations) selected through and considered ours to be a high priority.”
Since 2003, annual tests found E. coli and total coliform infecting 10 wells that service the First Nation’s main village.
After the most recent discovery of E. coli in the community’s water supply two years ago, the First Nation was described as a high-risk group, said Skookum.
“But after the Conservative government was elected, we were put down to medium risk so that government didn’t have to help us with any types of finances.”
The First Nation has been struggling to cope with the problem ever since, he said.
A lot of money was spent on feasibility studies and holding community meetings, said Skookum.
Recently, an elder had to go to Vancouver for a few months with a stomach virus that could have been related to the contaminated water.
“We had a near fatality there — we should be high risk,” said Skookum.
“What do they want to see? Another Walkerton? Why put it under a blanket of silence? Does someone have to die?”
“Since 2003 we’ve provided over $700,000 to the Little Salmon/Carmacks First Nation to improve water systems,” said Shari Borgford, of Indian and Northern Affairs.
“That includes $25,000 for a well-water-source protection plan.”
The government has also sponsored shock chlorination and provided training and other support for water system operators.
The First Nations water management strategy focuses on community water systems. These systems service more than five homes.
However, many of the wells in the Little Salmon area are for individual homes.
Little Salmon is also a self-governing First Nation.
“Funding is transferred on an annual basis for capital facilities as well as operations and maintenance,” said Borgford.
“They have the ability to use that funding for these types of challenges as well.”
“It’s shocking to me, as a Canadian, that in a place like the Yukon we could have a large community without safe drinking water and the government not move in immediately to fix it,” said Canadian Auto Workers Union president Buzz Hargrove.
“I just couldn’t believe it when I heard it.”
Next spring, the union plans to send volunteer workers to fix these wells and educate the community on how to maintain them.
The First Nation will be responsible for providing materials and doing the digging necessary for the next piped system.
“When a union steps up to the plate for us there’s no reason that the government can’t do the same,” said Skookum.
Other projects planned by the Canadian Auto Workers include renovations and repairs at the Native Canadian Centre in Toronto.
The union will also help create a drop-in centre for the Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre.
“It’s about leading by example, but also pushing the government, lobbying and trying to get some additional support,” said Hargrove.
“It was frustrating to watch the budget last night giving corporate tax cuts when there are all these problems out there.
“Jim Flaherty and Mr. Harper are ignoring the plight of so many people and catering to the worst kind of politics — trying to buy our votes by giving us our money back.”