Neskantaga residents returning home two months after water crisis evacuation
About 250 people relocated to a hotel in Thunder Bay in late October
Residents forced to leave their Indigenous community in northern Ontario over a water crisis are returning home after nearly two months, their chief said.
Neskantaga Chief Chris Moonias posted a statement on social media late Dec. 17, saying the return from Thunder Bay, Ont., had begun. However, a boil-water advisory for the community — issued 25 years ago — remained in effect.
It’s been difficult for residents to go through a pandemic, water crisis and evacuation at the same time, Moonias said.
He thanked people in Thunder Bay and other First Nations across Canada for their support.
“Under terrible circumstances, we have also experienced the kindness and generosity of others,” Moonias said. “Although this has been one of the most challenging trials we have faced in recent times, we have also been filled with so much gratitude.”
About 250 people relocated to a hotel in Thunder Bay in late October after an oily sheen surfaced in the community’s reservoir. A handful of residents stayed behind to do necessary work, such as looking after household pets and monitoring infrastructure.
While work on the water-treatment plant was not complete, Moonias said, water was running again and, after 14 days of tests, was cleaner than before.
Moonias had laid out a list of conditions before people could go home, including a call to investigate business practices of companies that work on water-treatment facilities in Indigenous communities.
He thanked federal Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller for working with the First Nation during the crisis, and committing to support their priorities. The road had been “rocky” at the beginning of the crisis but the community recognized the support from Miller and his office since then, the chief said.
“We look forward to an ongoing collaborative relationship,” he wrote.
Miller thanked Moonias via Twitter on Dec. 17.
“We will continue to support the people of Neskantaga throughout the repatriation process, as well as address the community’s long-term needs,” Miller said.