Neskantaga residents start returning home two months after water crisis evacuation

·2 min read

Residents forced to leave their Indigenous community in northern Ontario over a water crisis began flying home after nearly two months, their chief said on Friday.

Chief Chris Moonias tweeted photos showing residents of Neskantaga boarding a homebound flight in Thunder Bay, Ont. 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 in a statement issued Thursday. "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 Thursday.

"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.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 18, 2020.

The Canadian Press