Gov't to book entire hotel for Neskantaga First Nation evacuees to protect them against COVID-19
TORONTO -- The federal government plans to rent every room of a Thunder Bay, Ont. hotel where evacuees from Neskantaga First Nation have been staying for three weeks while a water crisis in their home community is being resolved.
Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller told CTV News on Wednesday that the government intends to rent out the remaining rooms at the Victoria Inn in Thunder Bay to protect the evacuees from any COVID-19 exposure in the area.
“We're working with the officials to make sure we can provide that safe environment for them,” Miller said.
About 250 members Neskantaga First Nation where evacuated from their homes in late October after an oily sheen was found in the Neskantaga water reservoir. Initial testing results found high levels of hydrocarbons in the water.
The majority of the evacuees have been staying at the Victoria Inn ever since.
A representative for Neskantaga First Nation said Chief Christopher Moonias did speak with Miller on Wednesday, but insists there is no concrete plan or any indication as to when action will be taken.
Meanwhile community members are growing increasingly anxious about the potential spread of COVID-19 in Thunder Bay.
“To protect myself and my family all we do is stay in the room all day,” said Marcus Moonias.
According to the Thunder Bay Health Unit, there are 52 active cases of COVID-19 in the region, including three new cases announced on Wednesday
Neskantaga First Nation has been under a boil-water advisory for 25 years, the longest-running such advisory in Canada.
“This not what a G-7 country should be acting like and we owe it to the children especially that live there and the elders that have endured all this pain all these years,” said Former Grand Chief for Northern Manitoba Sheila North.
The federal government in 2015 committed to ending all boil-water advisories on First Nation reserves by March 2021, but the government has seemingly pulled back from that promise and has blamed COVID-19 for delays.
There remains 59 boil-water advisories among First Nations in Canada and critics don’t believe the government’s goal was ever within reach.
“We know that COVID has certainly slowed down a number of projects in the far north, but the prime minister would have easily missed a mark on his electoral promise of 2015 regardless of COVID,” said NDP MP Charlie Angus, who represents Timmins—James Bay.
Indigenous Services Canada has said testing on a new water treatment plant in Neskantaga First Nation should be completed on Dec. 2, though it’s unclear as to when the community will be allowed to return to the area.