Contaminated Water Results in State of Emergency at Cat Lake First Nation

April 9, 2003
Intolerable and Inhumane Situation Puts Lives at Risk

Residents of the Cat Lake First Nation in northwestern Ontario are living in a state of emergency due to contaminated drinking water that has resulted in an outbreak of gastroenteritis.

"This is an extremely serious situation. Lives are at risk," said Assembly of First Nations Acting National Chief Charles Fox. (National Chief Matthew Coon Come currently is in Europe speaking about First Nations' Third World conditions.) "Unfortunately, this is nothing new since any number of First Nations across this country are potential Walkerton disasters (102 First Nations currently are under boil water advisories)."

"What makes this situation new is that Health Canada closed its nursing station in Cat Lake last week and evacuated the medical staff after the building and surrounding residences were flooded with raw sewage," noted acting National Chief Fox. "The community's water and sewage treatment systems have had recurring malfunctions over the years."

The situation at Cat Lake First Nation has gone from bad to worse. Cat Lake's water plant has been rated "high risk" by Indian and Northern Affairs since March, 2001. There has been a Health Canada boil water advisory for more than two years. Since October, 2002, Cat Lake Chief Wilfred Wesley has sent letters of appeal to both Indian and Northern Affairs and Minister Robert Nault, who also is the local MP. He has received no reply.

This past Friday, April 4, the Cat Lake First Nation declared a state of emergency after the community's "flawed" water and sewer system suffered a complete shutdown. "Health Canada has stated that the public health implications are extremely serious," Fox said. "With warmer weather later this week, the spring runoffs will spread the raw sewage throughout the community and into the lake.

"We need immediate action to correct this intolerable and inhumane situation. If our government won't help, perhaps we should appeal for humanitarian aid from the United Nations."

Source: Assembly of First Nations