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Water Today Title October 30, 2020

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Update 2018/3/7
First Nation Water


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By Stuart Smith

Chief Lorraine Crane of Slate Falls Nation has been presented with the inaugural First Nation Water Leadership Award by Minister of Indigenous Services, Jane Philpott.

Minister Philpott travelled to the Nation in northern Ontario, north of Sioux Lookout, to personally deliver the award and officially open the new water treatment plant which replaces eleven failed systems.

WaterToday spoke to her over the phone shortly after the commencement of yesterday's celebrations:

"It was really special. The whole community seemed to be there, and everyone was really excited. There was a really great energy and the facilities were spectacular. People have been waiting a really long time for this."

It was more than a decade ago, in 2004, that the water delivery systems taking water from Bamaji lake were identified as having 'issues' by Health Canada. However, she noted, "it was roughly the summer of 2016 when the final plans [for the new system] were all approved."

Minister Philpott explained to us why Chief Crane was chosen for this award. "She really needs to be commended for her persuasive character and her commitment. These things always take local leadership to see them through. She identified this as one of her priorities going in and got the right people in place, really leading the way and really pushing it to make it happen - [even] pushing our department to make sure we continue to follow thRough."

Explaining the reason behind the 14-year delay in resolving the issue, she said, "The challenge prior to our government making our [2016] commitment on drinking water advisories is that communities could never get more than one year or maybe two years of funding for a project. They would apply for funding, they would get a one-year commitment, and that simply wasn't long enough to be able to figure out what could be done."

"[It was] putting in that long term funding and saying 'yes, do your design, and we're absolutely committed not only to the design phase but also to construction, operation and maintenance beyond that.'"

In 2016 the Ministry of Indigenous Services committed to resolving all the boil water advisories on indigenous reserves by March 2021. We checked with Minister Philpott that they were still on schedule to meet their commitment.

"Everything's well on track. We've got some additional resources in Budget 2018 to...accelerate some of the work...which will be helpful to move things ahead as fast as we possibly can. But our commitment on the 2021 date is absolutely firm and we are tracking every single one of the 81 current advisories, as well as any other advisories that are at risk of becoming long-term. So I think that kind of really deliberate, focused work is going to pay off."


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