Running all this week on SAMAQAN is the story of Kitigan Zibi and how they are now managing their water treatment and distribution. This was the follow up to our stories about how some communities do not yet have running water. Is it any easier for those communities that acquired running water than those without?
While circumstances are vastly different between Northern Manitoba and central, southern Quebec, there are many commonalities.
For those of you who do not know, Kitigan Zibi is also known as River Dessert band and until 1994 it was also known as Maniwaki. Under the leadership of Jean Guy Whiteduck the name was changed back to Kitigan Zibi, which means Garden River in the Algonquin language. The Maliseet language has a similar word for river, “Zib”.
Back in 2008 Gilbert Whiteduck was elected chief. Gilbert grew up in the region and although he endured racism and cat-calling going to school in the local area, he reached beyond the tightrope of colonial attitudes. He remembers being told by teachers in high school that he would not amount to much: “I had told myself well we’ll see about that so we had to be very stubborn, very persistent in order to go on in to university and do things that government and other people said we couldn’t do.”
When it comes to a water system, Gilbert like most band members had a well. They drank from a hole in the ground. “That’s the way we lived we didn’t have any indoor plumbing and that was the deal there was no big thing. Even though the local town had the municipal system we didn’t.”
In early 2000 Uranium was detected in the water supply. The water was in such poor condition that the dogs and cats had to stop drinking the water. People stopped taking showers and bottled water became a commodity no one could afford forcing the band to subsidize the costs at $170,000.00 per year. And according to some community member’s bottled water is here to stay.
Celine Brazeau tests water for sampling and analysis for the Ktigan Zibi community and she grew up in Kitigan Zibi. While growing up she had no idea that there could be anything wrong with the water. “We only found out like in the early nineties, so by then I was already married. It wasn’t something that we had to think about or worry, you just went to your tap and drank the water and it was never an issue.”
Marcel Brascoupe is the Manager of the Water filtration plant in Kitigan Zibi.” Now as of 2010 and 2011 we were able to obtain funding from Indian affairs to build an aqueduct and system through part of the community. So we actually have presently in the community, probably about 100 close to 200 homes that are now supplied with aqueduct system. We were actually able to find 2 wells in the community, those wells sites we will be visiting or have visited and those actual sites those wells are high quality water with hardly any, no uranium at all or radium in the water. So we’re actually using those new wells now to supply all the community.”
But now many people have become accustomed to the bottled water and fear that a water filtration system may never reach them. Celine Brazeau remains pessimistic. “I don’t know if they’ll ever see the water system coming to their place so bottled water I think is here for the rest of our lives, most likely.“
The community works hard to this day to make improvements despite having endured water consumption bans in the past. Now through a combination of community lead initiatives the Anishinabeg of Kitigan Zibi are showing their resilience in Episode 29 of Samaqan Water Stories. Chief Gilbert Whiteduck knows, however, that the work starts at home and must be managed at home.
“Now as of last year in 2010 and 2011 we were able to obtain funding from Indian affairs to build an aqueduct and system through part of the community. So we actually have presently in the community, probably about 100 close to 200 homes that are now supplied with aqueduct system. We were actually able to find 2 wells in the community, those wells sites we will be visiting or have visited and those actual sites those wells are high quality water with hardly any, no uranium at all or radium in the water. So we’re actually using those new wells now to supply all the community.”