Water: To Boil or Not to Boil?

Written by Japhet

Topics: Frontline Communities

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Two RAN interns currently up in Grassy Narrows, Ontario recently sent in the following letter about the water situation they are facing. Thanks to Cathy (hope you feel better!) and Alex for the update.Drinking water in Grassy Narrows? Better boil it first!

The water at Grassy Narrows has been a hot issue for more than 40 years. This is partially why we were not really surprised when the community (as well as ourselves) were put under a ‘boil water advisory’ this past week. This is a (relatively) small inconvenience to our campsite and to the community. However, many of the residents of Grassy Narrows consider themselves lucky; nearby White Dog First Nation has had a similar advisory for nearly a decade. Many of Grassy’s residents choose to let this small inconvenience slide, rather than letting it get the better of them.

The situation has left some of our Southern Ontario participants thinking of Walkerton and the great media fiasco that followed. Why is it that so many First Nations communities have to boil their tap water and it is considered an acceptable situation while in a ‘white community’ (such as Walkerton) outcry and uproar carry the day and cause the government to act decisively? Others of us, indignation aside, think of the recent situations at Kashechewan, and are glad to be reassured that our new friends in Grassy will not be being evacuated, and that they are confident that they will have safe drinking water again soon. We think about the several dozen First Nations communities across Ontario that have or have had similar situations and we wonder; why is this considered acceptable? Especially when so many of these communities are in fact, situated on massive lakes and systems of fresh water – I wonder how it can be that I, living on the filthy shores of Lake Ontario can have safe, cold tap water but Grassy Narrows cannot be supplied with good drinking water from the English River system and the myriad of other lakes and springs in the region.

The general Canadian public is often quite dismissive of drinking water problems in First Nations communities. They often do not understand how water filtration systems work, and whose responsibility the funding and upkeep is. Instead, all too often, other things are blamed – the negative stereotypes with which “we” (we, meaning non-indigenous cultures) plague First Nations peoples with have become the excuses that get blamed for everything. So, in the minds of many, there is no drinking water problem, instead people are sick from alcoholism, or bad food habits, etc, etc. But neither we nor most of the folks from Grassy have been drinking (alcohol), and we have been vigilant about eating healthy and taking care of ourselves. However, that has not prevented members of our group from getting water poisoning over the past couple of days. In fact, I am finishing a blog-post that Cathy started. She is quite ill and was unable to continue.

For now we continue to boil our water. And the grassroots activists in the community have assured us however, that this will not be so for long.

We’ll continue to post updates from our crew up in Grassy Narrows. For more info on the situation developing up there checkout Freegrassy.org.

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