10,000 days and counting: Neskantaga Nation copes with more than a quarter of a century on a boil water advisory.

As of Sunday June 19th 2022, Neskantaga First Nation has reached 10,000 days of a boil water advisory, meaning that they have no access to clean drinking water. This outrageous inequity has been persistent for 27 years.

For the 25 year old Neskantaga First Nations member, Charla Moonias, having to boil water has been the reality for her whole life. Neskantaga’s children have  grown into men and women who have never known clean water to drink or bathe in. “10,000 days: that’s a really long time. I’m 25. I’ve never experienced drinking from the tap back home”, says Moonias.

We had the opportunity to chat with Charla to hear her thoughts on the ongoing issue. Charla is a Neskantaga First Nation member and has grown up on bottled water. For her, all issues experienced by her people flow back to the water. She has been vocal from a young age about issues surrounding clean drinking water, as well as colonization and the effect that it has had on the mental and physical well being of her community. 

Charla Moons of Neskantaga Nation.
Charla Moonias, Neskantaga First Nation

Neskantaga First Nation is an Ojibwe community located 436 kilometers northeast of Thunder Bay, Ontario.The community is closely tied to its land, nestled within one of the most beautiful and pure ecological backdrops in North America. Surrounded by boreal forest that has been kept in a sustainable way for thousands of years, Neskantaga ironically live within a labyrinth of fresh water that stretchesas far as the eye can see. The setting is nothing short of breathtaking, but the environmental injustice the community faces is incredibly frustrating.

Boreal forest, lakes and wetlands aerial view, Neskantaga First Nation.

I just want to give the next generation hope that it’s not going to be like this forever. I hope that one day when I have children, I could tell them the stories of how hard everyone has fought for clean drinking water.”

Charla Moonias

As of 2021, there are currently 54 long-term boil water advisories in Indigenous communities. In 2015, Justin Trudeau promised to end all long-term drinking water advisories on First Nations by March 2021. It’s been over a year since that deadline passed, and many communities are still thirsting.

“Even when you move away from the reserve, I still drink bottled water,” says Charla. “I rarely use the tap here other than to cook. It’s just the way it is. You’re so stuck on that way of life. Even when you move away you can’t get out of the cycle of always having to drink from bottled water. So our next generation is going to struggle with that also. Even the generations before: they’re so used to drinking bottled water. Even if we do get our water fixed, the people now are not going to trust it. They’re still going to rely on bottled water.”

Another issue that communities are starting to see is the culmination of plastic bottle waste on their land. Like many other First Nations, Neskantaga does not have waste pickup or recycling. Most of its garbage, including plastic, is incinerated or ends up in a dump.

Small child holds two large empty drinking water containers.
Submitted by Marcus Moonias for CBC

“My concern is the environment and our land. Because we have so much plastic up north and we don’t have a recycling system over there,” says Charla. They do not recycle. So thousands and thousands of plastic bottles are going to our garbage dump, sometimes they are being burned which can also cause issues. And it just gets buried and it just stays there. I can’t imagine how much plastic is in our land right now and how it can damage it. It can damage our medicines, our animals, and our water.”

In 2021, Canada was voted the number 1 country to live in. Yet for many Indigenous communities this is far from a reality. Instead, they find themselves continuously demanding basic rights that are available to the vast majority of Canadians. 

“If the government is willing to spend thousands of dollars to fly in water every single week, why aren’t they using that money to help us get clean running water in our community? And with the Ring of Fire (mining development) happening, my opinion is that we have to give up a piece of our land and a piece of our way of life in order to get basic necessities that the majority of people in Canada already have, like housing, clean drinking water and affordable food.”

Currently, RAVEN is supporting Neskantaga in their legal challenge against mining on their territory. The Nation are headed to court to defend its Free, Prior and Informed Consent in the face of Ontario’s rush to approve road-building and mineral exploration permits in the Ring of Fire in northern Ontario. 

“I feel like if we let the Ring of Fire project come and intrude on our land, we will lose so much. We will lose our lakes, our wildlife, our medicines. It just doesn’t make sense.” 

“I hope that one day that I will help my community to get clean drinking water and I could tell that story. I hope that we can stop fighting the government because it’s exhausting. We shouldn’t have to fight. It’s Canada, we have rights to clean drinking water. I don’t understand why we have to fight so hard to get it. It’s not fair.”

We stand together with Neskantaga. Visit http://neskantaga.com to hear testimonies from community members and please donate to their legal challenge if you are able: https://raventrust.com/campaigns/neskantaga.

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