Ring of Fire Updates Weekly News Roundup

December 15-21, 2020: Weekly News Roundup

According to Minister of Northern Development and Mines, Energy and Indigenous Affairs, Greg Rickford, part of the “Connecting the North” transportation plan, will include the twinning of the Trans Canada Highway between Kenora and the Manitoba border, which is back on track. Engagement has begun with Iskatewizaagegan #39 Independent First Nation and the Metis Nation of Ontario for the project.

The community of Neskantaga First Nation returns home on December 18 as water tests indicate that the water is now safe to drink. However, the public health representative from the community is maintaining the boiled water advisory as concerns loom about this short-term fix and the ongoing issues with the treatment facility.

Meanwhile, following a December 10 letter from five First Nations to the Impact Assessment Agency of Canada, that agency has agreed to work with First Nations communities to “adapt the engagement schedule.” The First Nations groups indicated that they wanted a meaningful consultation period and that due to the pandemic, participation would be difficult.

December 15, 2020 (Kenora Online):

Rickford: Transportation plan includes more than twinning

“Greg Rickford says the twinning of the Trans-Canada Highway between Kenora and the Manitoba border has ‘never been in a better position’ after the release of a new transportation plan last week. “There’s a plan to actually twin the highway from the Manitoba border at least, to Kenora over the course of time. We’ve refocused our commitment to twinning the highway. COVID has been a setback, but frankly, the twinning has never been in a better position,” said Rickford.

Rickford says the province is currently engaged in talks with Iskatewizaagegan #39 Independent First Nation and the Metis Nation of Ontario for the project, and the Memorandum of Understanding between the Four Winds Group in February, 2020 was a major step forward for the work. “We’re confident in the next construction season we’ll be able to get shovels in the ground. To the credit of the Indigenous communities, there’s been great progress on how that will roll out. It’s all coming together and we can’t get this project started soon enough.”” Read more here…

December 16, 2020 (Yahoo News):

Neskantaga First Nation fights for long-term solution to water problems: VIDEO

“Members of Neskantaga First Nation, which has been under a boil water advisory for 25 years, have been cleared to return home to safe water. But leaders in the Indigenous community in northern Ontario are still pushing the federal government to agree on a long-term solution.” Watch video here.

December 17, 2020 (CBC):

Growing pressure from northern Ontario First Nations forces feds to extend Ring of Fire consultations

At least six First Nations in the region sent letters to federal Impact Assessment Agency demanding more time

“With pressure growing on the relatively new Impact Assessment Agency of Canada to delay consultation on the regional impact assessment in the Ring of Fire mineral development region in northern Ontario, the federal government has relented and offered more time and support for First Nations to participate in the process.

That decision came after a letter was sent to the agency on Dec. 10 that was jointly signed by the chiefs of five First Nations in northern Ontario asking for the deadline of Jan. 21, 2021, to be pushed back because of capacity issues related to the ongoing effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.” Read more here…

December 17, 2020 (CBC)

After evacuating twice over tainted water, Neskantaga residents plan their return home

Chief blames the community’s chronic water problems on a bureaucracy built to ‘oppress First Nations’

“Members of a First Nation that has been under a boil-water advisory for longer than any other in Canada are hoping to return home before Christmas to clean running water for the first time in 25 years. Neskantaga, accessible only by air and an ice road in winter, sits about 450 km north of Thunder Bay, Ont. — where nearly 300 of its members have been living in a hotel since an oily sheen in the reserve’s reservoir on Oct. 19 triggered their evacuation.

Now, final tests are taking place to determine whether Neskantaga’s water is safe enough for the community to use, weeks after members originally were scheduled to fly back and two years after the reserve’s water treatment plant was supposed to start producing clean drinking water.” Read more here…

December 18, 2020 (CBC):

Members of Neskantaga First Nation come home today to boil water advisory

The federal government is promising to fund a full-time professional water operator for the community

“After two months of living in hotel rooms, members of a remote First Nation will begin returning home today to clean tap water for the first time in 25 years. But the community’s public health officer says the boil-water advisory, which has been in place since 1995, will remain in place because of lingering problems with the water plant’s performance — problems the community warns could grow worse without more help from the federal government. Neskantaga, a Northern Ontario community of about 300 people, has been under a boil-water advisory for longer than any other First Nation in Canada.” Read more here…

December 18, 2020 (Global News):

Neskantaga residents start returning home 2 months after tainted water evacuation

“Residents forced to leave their Indigenous community in northern Ontario over a water crisis began flying home after nearly two months, their chief said on Friday. Chief Chris Moonias tweeted photos showing residents of Neskantaga boarding a homebound flight in Thunder Bay, Ont. However, a boil-water advisory for the community — issued 25 years ago — remained in effect.” Read more here…

December 19, 2020 (The Chronicle Journal):

Evacuees begin journey back to Neskantaga

“After nearly two months, evacuees from Neskantaga First Nation started to return home on Friday. The 260 residents from the remote First Nation community have been staying in a Thunder Bay hotel after an oily sheen was found in their reservoir on Oct. 19. It forced the shut-off of their running water and a state of emergency was declared. The community has had a boil water advisory for 25 years, one of the longest in Canada.” Read more here…

December 21, 2020 (CBC):

Neskantaga evacuees relieved to be home, but distrust about water quality lingers

The 25-year-old boil water advisory at Ontario First Nation remains in place

“More than 250 members of a remote northern Ontario First Nation are back home for the holidays after spending two months in a Thunder Bay hotel following a water emergency. As they stepped onto the tarmac at Neskantaga, about 450 kilometres northeast of Thunder Bay, some jumped and cheered in excitement. “Christmas is here and we need to be home,” said Hilda Moonias, as she climbed into a van at the airport for the short drive to her house. But the return comes with mixed emotions.” Read more here…

December 21, 2020 (APTN):

Neskantaga members return home just in time for holidays but still on a boil water advisory

“Members of the Oji-Cree community of Neskantaga First Nation are back at home after being force to flee their homes because of water issues. But despite the return, about 250 members will still be living under a boil water advisory. The community has been staying in Thunder Bay since October after a forced shut down of their water treatment plant due to an unknown oily substance appearing on top of their reservoir. That was a distant memory as members got off the plane and were greeted with cheers and warm greetings from leadership and members who stayed behind during the evacuation.” Read more here…

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