Photo © Courtesy of RAVEN
That’s the story of Neskantaga First Nation. They live in one of the more remote—and spectacular—parts of northern Ontario, on the shores of Attawapiskat Lake. It’s a region ironically rich in freshwater and possibly the largest intact boreal forest remaining in the world. But, because of government neglect and mismanagement, the community has recently passed a grim milestone: it’s been 9,500 days without clean water flowing to the 357 people that call this place home.
Last November, the community was evacuated due to dangerously high contamination levels that saw children break out in skin infections from contact with tap water. It was the second such departure in just over a year.
While the Neskantaga community struggles, there IS a place along the Attawapiskat River that has enjoyed an uninterrupted flow of clean water: the DeBeers’ Victor Diamond Mine. It is a stark inequality and an indictment of the politics of neglect that continue to impoverish First Nations in Treaty 9.
Says Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler, “This continued water crisis goes beyond boiling contaminated water. The bigger issue is that people’s basic fundamental human rights are being contravened and continually ignored.”
While hundreds of millions of dollars are being mustered for the complex mining infrastructure, the stewards of the lands and waters of this boreal region have been persistently denied the basic necessities of life. “While they don’t want to be overburdened with other things while they’re suffering, I don’t know one community leader who would forfeit [the] right to proper consultation to free, prior and informed consent,” shares Riley Yesno, a research fellow at Yellowhead Institute and a member of Eabametoong Nation.
The community is under pressure to hurriedly green-light development that will forever change the Neskantaga way of life. In response, the community is turning to the courts to demand due process, as part of a broader vision to restore the integrity of the entire Attawapiskat River watershed.
The Neskantaga are standing up for their rights: the right to safe drinking water and the right to determine their own futures on their homelands.
Legal challenges are expensive: that’s why RAVEN (Respecting Aboriginal Values and Environmental Needs) is joining forces with Neskantaga to fundraise for this important cause. The goal? To raise $100,000 to help the community access justice and to protect precious intact boreal forests.
To support Neskantaga, donate to RAVEN: fundraise.raventrust.com
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RAVEN raises legal defence funds for Indigenous Peoples in Canada to defend their rights and the integrity of lands and cultures.