CURVE LAKE — At a Curve Lake candidates debate Monday night, Green party hopeful Chanté White challenged Peterborough-Kawartha MP Maryam Monsef on the federal government’s commitment to bringing clean drinking water to Indigenous communities — nationally and locally.
“It just isn’t being done fast enough. You shouldn’t have to fight your own Prime Minister to get something accomplished,” said White during the virtual debate held over Zoom.
While White acknowledged Curve Lake First Nation’s progress on accessing clean and safe drinking water, she said the federal government has been slow to act in fulfilling its overall promise of lifting boil-water advisories in First Nations reserves across the country.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made the pledge during his 2015 campaign, when there were 105 advisories in effect. There are now 58 long-term drinking water advisories in First Nations, according to Indigenous Services Canada.
In Curve Lake First Nation, after an uninterrupted long-term boil-water advisory from 2016 to 2018, the community is set to establish a water filtration system.
Monsef, working with Curve Lake officials, secured $2.2 million in federal funding to design the system. A recent lawsuit settlement with the feds over access to clean water is expected to help bankroll the project.
Responding to White, Monsef touted Trudeau as “the first PM in the history of confederation that’s pushed forward on reconciliation,” while “investing historic dollars to try and do right by the first peoples of this land.”
“Where the fight is, Chanté, and where the resistance is, is working within a system that is built upon a colonial structure. It’s based on racism. Undoing that work and getting through red tape — that takes time,” Monsef said.
White said “some of you know me as the woman who challenged Justin Trudeau and Maryam Monsef to drink the water from Curve Lake. I did that because they were telling people over 100 boil water advisories have been lifted and Curve Lake is on that list. They’re trying to imply that you can drink the water in Curve Lake. That is not true,” said White, adding that “Trudeau is misleading people.”
Curve Lake First Nation Chief Emily Whetung interjected.
“Curve Lake does not currently have a long-term drinking water advisory. We are thrilled with the settlement of our class action which will bring us clean water very shortly,” she said.
NDP candidate Joy Lachica also attended the virtual debate. Absent was Conservative candidate Michelle Ferreri, who has said she is ill. Her campaign has confirmed that she’s received her second COVID-19 vaccination dose Saturday after initially campaigning while being partially vaccinated. A request for comment on her absence Monday night was not returned to the Peterborough Examiner by press time Tuesday.
Responding to questions from North Kawartha Coun. Colin McLellan and past Curve Lake chief Phyllis Williams on the opioid crisis and lack of on-reserve services, all candidates said there is a need for treatment and mental health supports close to the reserve.
Along with traditional forms of therapy, “Indigenous and culturally-upheld forms of support, healing and health,” are needed, Lachica said.
Monsef said the Liberals are committing $1.4 billion for a wellness strategy with First Nations, Inuit and Metis nations.
“We’re going to be guided by communities, survivors and their families. If Peterborough-Kawartha, with Curve Lake as the lead, wants to move forward to bring a treatment facility with proper wraparound supports, I’m all in,” Monsef said.
White noted the difficulty of leaving loved ones to access treatment outside of the area, saying better supports are needed in rural communities “for the delivery of land-based, trauma-informed community addictions care for Indigenous peoples.”
Anne Taylor, who works for the education department in Curve Lake, asked what the candidates would do to get a new school and daycare in the community, since the current ones are old and small.
White said the Green party would invest more money into the community to revitalize them, while Lachica said she would want to do “more research on the federal framework for the criteria for what is optimum” and then itemize an improvement plan.
Monsef said a feasibility study has been completed regarding a new school and she is ready to move forward with that. On the daycare front, “the program we’re introducing is not just going to save on child care fees … but we’re also saying we’re going to build additional infrastructure” which will see tens of thousands more early learning and childhood educators trained.
Monsef said confronting the painful legacy of Canada’s residential school system will be a top priority for the Liberal incumbent if re-elected.
With the recent discovery of the remains of thousands of children buried in unmarked graves at former residential school sites across the country, Monsef said survivors are being re-traumatized.
“Those children are forcing us all to wake up. They’ve come back to tell the truth and we can’t look away.”
When candidates were asked about their main priorities regarding Indigenous issues, clean drinking water was on everyone’s list.
Brendan Burke is a staff reporter at the Examiner, based in Peterborough. His reporting is funded by the Canadian government through its Local Journalism Initiative.
Brendan Burke, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Peterborough Examiner