After 18 Years Without Clean Water, Canadian Government Finally Steps Up to Help Community


A Canadian community that has relied on bottled water deliveries for 18 years is taking the first step toward clean tap water.

This week, Canada's new minister of Indigenous and northern affairs Carolyn Bennettreiterated to the Canadian Press that the Liberal government is committed to funding its share of a $30 million access road that will make it cheaper and easier for Shoal Lake 40 to build a desperately-needed water treatment plant.

Shoal Lake 40 is an isolated First Nation of 250 people that sits on a man-made island in Manitoba. A century ago, the City of Winnipeg relocated the First Nation in order to divert the lake water to city residents, cutting Shoal Lake 40 off from the mainland. Today Winnipeg residents enjoy treated tap water from the lake while Shoal Lake 40 residents risk rashes and illness if they bathe in or drink their untreated water. Instead, bottled water is transported across the lake on a decrepit ferry in the summer months, and over an ice road during the winter.

The access road, dubbed Freedom Road by the community, will connect the residents to the mainland, making it easier for them to access health care, and cheaper to transport materials for a treatment plant.

Read more: These People Haven't Had Clean Water to Drink for 20 Years in Canada

During the Canadian election, the Liberals promised that if elected they would kick in $10 million toward the cost of the road, which would be split between three levels of government.

In June, the city of Winnipeg and the province of Manitoba promised to kick in $10 million each, contingent on the federal government pitching in as well. But at the time, the ruling Conservative government refused to fund the road, instead promising $1 million toward the road's design.

Bennett told the Canadian Press the government would make an official announcement about funding for Freedom Road "in the near future.""This is a serious commitment and it will happen," Bennett said. "So many of these issues are no longer indigenous issues. These are Canadian issues about our values and principles and how we can go forward in a good way."

During an election town hall with Justin Trudeau, VICE Canada asked the Liberal leader what he would do about rampant boil water advisories on First Nations across Canada, and he promised to end boil water advisories within five years.

"We have 93 different communities under 133 different boil water advisories across the country," he said. "Chief Isadore Day has called for within five years there should be zero, and I've told the Chief and I've told First Nations many times, we agree with that, and a Canadian government led by me will address this as a top priority because it's not right in a country like Canada that this has gone on for far too long."

As of September 30, there were 138 drinking water advisories in effect in 94 First Nation communities, excluding British Columbia, according to Health Canada. For now, Shoal Lake 40 remains on that list.

Follow Hilary Beaumont on Twitter.