Kashechewan crisis points to larger issues


More than two weeks after E. coli was detected in the water of the Kashechewan First Nations reserve, hundreds are still awaiting evacuation. A report published in 2003 by the Ontario Clean Water Agency referred to Kashechewan as a “Walkerton-in-waiting.” For two years, the community has been under a boil-water advisory. It seems there was sufficient evidence for government officials to at least prepare for a possible outbreak on the reserve.

The situation in Kashechewan, however, is not isolated to this community alone. 85 other First Nation communities across Canada are under boil-water advisories. Indian Affairs Minister Andy Scott has recently suggested the lack of training of the water purification plant operators is to blame.

The Globe and Mail reports that Scott’s press secretary, Campbell Morrison, has said that “we don’t think all first nations have certified water experts .... Part of that is to train people to run all these water facilities and for the training and certification operators.” In addition, $1.6 billion has been set aside to train these individuals. However, the issue here is that none of these measures were taken when the problem was still in its preventative stages. Officials have waited until now, when lives are at risk, to begin attempting to solve the problem.

Canada has consistently faced deserved criticism for its treatment of native peoples within its borders. After many suggestions and warnings from the UN, Canada—a country that ranked first in the UN Human Development Index for years—was finally sent a message when it fell to fifth place. If this issue isn’t new, then why hasn’t anything been done?

It is disappointing that even after the Walkerton tragedy, this situation in Kashechewan was still allowed to happen. It has also shed some light on an even greater issue at hand: the government-implemented infrastructure of the Kashechewan and other First Nation communities needs to be re-evaluated. From the very beginning, when the reserve was first built, its location was questioned because its situation on low-lying land makes it susceptible to flooding.

Despite the apprehension, the reserve was still built. Now, 50 years later, it is moving to a location it could quite easily have been built on from the start. In the Globe and Mail, one resident put it aptly, saying: “This place is not good enough. It never has been. They should burn it to the ground.” While the crisis should never have happened in the first place, we hope the increased public attention will encourage both sides to open lines of communication and dialogue in order to ensure that water impurities do not claim the lives of residents of the Kashechewan First Nation reserve like they did in Walkerton. We are all Canadians and have the right to expect equality in standards of living.

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