Residents of a Canadian First Nations community who had been without safe drinking water for almost a quarter-century may finally drink from their taps, thanks to the completion of a water treatment facility earlier this week.

Shoal Lake
(Photo : Wikimedia Commons)

Shoal Lake Water Status

Since 1997, the village of Shoal Lake 40, on the Manitoba-Ontario border, has been under a drinking water advisory.

Residents celebrated the launch of the community's C$33 million (US$26 million) water treatment facility on Wednesday.

Vernon Redsky, chief of Shoal Lake 40 First Nation, told reporters, "It's fantastic - and it's about darn time."

Difficult Access

Until recently, the only way in or out of the village was via summer barge or winter road over the lake, making it prohibitively expensive to transport construction materials for a water treatment facility. After the federal government balked at the cost, plans for a treatment facility were shelved in 2011.

The "Freedom Road," a 24-kilometer (15-mile) all-season road that connects the village to the Trans-Canada highway system - and spurred the building of the new facility - was completed in 2019.

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Years of Struggle for Clean Water

Tap Water
(Photo : Pixabay)

Angelina McLeod, a local, told the Canadian Press, "It's the end of years of battles trying to acquire the most basic requirements of existence, clean drinking water."

The inability of Shoal Lake 40 residents to obtain safe drinking water has been one of the country's longest-running problems - and a cause of embarrassment for the federal government, according to a minister on Wednesday.

At the ceremony, Marc Miller, the country's Indigenous services minister, remarked, "This is not a triumph of the federal government; this is a victory of the community."

For centuries, Canada has failed to guarantee Indigenous peoples access to safe drinking water, and supplies in dozens of communities are declared hazardous to drink.

In an interview with the Guardian earlier this year, Miller said, "It's intolerable in a nation that is monetarily one of the wealthiest in the world, and water-rich, and the fact is that many people don't have access to clean water."

Justin Trudeau reiterated his government's commitment to removing long-term boil water advisories, a pledge made by the Liberals during the 2015 election campaign.

"The water is poisonous to indigenous people who have lived on that land for generations and millennia. On Wednesday, the prime minister stated, "We're fixing that."

According to federal data, 51 long-term drinking water advisories are still in effect in 32 communities. However, since November 2015, a total of 109 advisories have been lifted.

Water Settlement

In early August, the federal government and First Nations communities reached an $8 billion settlement in two class-action lawsuits over access to safe drinking water.

The deal offers to pay locals, secure the construction of drinking water infrastructure, and modernize legislation, all of which are demands made by First Nations leaders for decades.

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