Living without safe and reliable drinking water on Manitoba First Nation

Living without safe and reliable drinking water on Manitoba First Nation


[wind blows] ♪ ♪ Connie Walker: Zachary
Flett does what he can to help his family stay warm
and safe this winter. But it’s hard in a house
with no furnace, no power, and no water. Zachary: I wake up at
6:00 in the morning. I make fire. I get ready for the day. Connie Walker:
The wood stove helps, but living without running
water is a huge burden for Zachary and his
grandmother Maggie. Maggie: We have to
get the water every day, we use about five or six pails. We need water for
washing laundry, for keeping ourselves
clean, washing our face, our hands, because keeping
ourselves clean is pretty important
in terms of hygiene and health. Connie Walker: What
about for the bathroom? Maggie: I don’t think
you would want to see. [chuckles]
Well, there’s an outdoor. Zachary: There’s
an outhouse there. Maggie: We have a little
pail over there, but… We do try our
best and we do try not to complain about it. [airplane propellers] Connie Walker:
The Fletts’ situation is not new or unusual. Garden Hill
is a fly-in community in northern Manitoba,
surrounded by fresh water. But hundreds of people
living here still don’t have running
water in their homes. That’s still
a major improvement from ten years ago,
when just half the community had indoor plumbing. Then, in 2009,
an H1N1 flu outbreak hit Garden Hill hard. Peter Mansbridge:
Dozens are sick in a Northern Native community. Is the swine flu
virus on the march? Connie Walker:
Not having running water made it harder
to contain the flu. Reporter:
As the flu spreads to other First Nations,
so does the fear and panic about how to deal
with the outbreak. Connie Walker:
When Chiefs in the region asked for help,
the federal government sent body bags and
hand sanitizers. That response
prompted outrage. Legislator: Why hasn’t the
federal government sent supplies and expertise to the
Garden Hill First Nation and others? Connie Walker: Soon after,
the federal government pledged $30 million
to retrofit homes in the region. Now in Garden Hill, about
a third of the homes rely on a water
truck like this. [truck beeps] It fills up here at the
water treatment plant and delivers water to houses
with new cisterns. That’s a water tank
just outside or underneath their homes. [loud whirring] Inside this shed is one
of those new water tanks. So, this house now
has running water and indoor plumbing. But we’ve talked
to a lot of people who have these tanks, and say
they still have problems. The pumps break,
the lines freeze, and the tank runs out. And with only two water
trucks servicing this entire community,
they can wait a few days, a few weeks, even up to
a month to get a refill. ♪♪ Connie Walker: But you
don’t drink this water. Wallace: No, we don’t. Connie Walker: Why not? Wallace: Because
it’s sticky. Connie Walker: Wallace
Knott is one of them. He now has something
that so many Canadians take for granted –
running water. So this is water
from the cistern. But that doesn’t
mean he trusts it. Wallace: Put your
hand in here. You can feel it. Sticky. Connie Walker:
Can I feel it? Wallace: Now feel
your hand after. Connie Walker:
There’s a film on it. Yeah. And it doesn’t
taste good, either. I wouldn’t want to even
taste it or sample it. It’s not drinkable. Connie Walker:
Or reliable. Wallace says
he runs out of water nearly every two weeks. Connie Walker: How long
were you out of water for? Maybe three, four days? Connie Walker: And
sometimes when the water tank is empty, the
sewage tank is full. Wallace: When it
gets too full, the sewage starts coming
out of the bathtub, and it starts to
get smelly in here. I mean, it does
get smelly. And what can you do? It’s bad. It’s bad. Connie Walker: Chief
Dino Flett says the band doesn’t have
enough money to maintain the flawed system they have. We have to work
with what we have. Well, this is
all the people. Connie Walker: Russell
Harper has been trying for decades to get everyone in
the community piped water. All of it down. Connie Walker:
No more pails. No more cisterns. But so far, their hopes
have fallen on deaf ears. I guess they think what
they provided is enough. Connie Walker: The federal
government is spending $1.8 billion to end boil water advisories
on reserves. Is this one running good? Connie Walker: But that
won’t help the people in Garden Hill. The government
says they don’t see an urgent need here. The water from the
treatment plant is already safe to drink. Andrew:
What I’m doing here is collecting my water sample. Connie Walker: It was
Andrew Flett’s job to make sure of it. Andrew: Every day,
Monday to Friday. Also on the
weekends, 24-7, 365 days of the year. Wow. There’s no breaks,
no holidays when it comes to this job. Connie Walker: But only
half of the people who live in Garden Hill get
their water directly from the water treatment plant. Andrew isn’t one of them. He has a cistern
at home that has never been cleaned. So to get drinking water,
he comes here to the community’s
only water fountain. There’s like a film
that settles at the bottom of every tank. It’s full of bacteria
and you can get sick, causes like diarrhea,
eating problems, and all that. Have you gotten
sick from the water? Oh yes, we did
a few years ago. It was severe with my
daughter and my wife, because when
they would eat, they couldn’t keep
anything down. Connie Walker: With so
many barriers to access safe drinking water,
Zachary knows that some people watching from
their comfortable homes down south might
wonder why he stays. Because this is home. No matter how
bad things are, or how people look
at it and view it. This is home not
only because of the beauty, not only
of the history, but as a community, we choose to make this our home. [wind blows softly]

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