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2nd December 2020
Cold Water 4 Clean Water organizer raising awareness about clean water accessibility in Indigenous communities

Special to The Sudbury Star
Published on: November 28, 2020 Last Updated: November 28, 2020 5:08 AM EST

Every day since Nov. 13, Jordan Cheff of Sudbury has been swimming at Nepahwin Beach as part of his charity and awareness campaign, Cold Water 4 Clean Water.

Cheff’s local swims are meant to draw attention to the national, longstanding problem of water issues within many Indigenous communities. He plans to continue swimming each day through to Dec. 13.

All proceeds donated will be given to Water First Education, a not-for-profit that educates water treatment plant operators within Indigenous communities for free as part of its efforts to create long-term water solutions for Indigenous communities.

Cheff concedes his swims are an uncomfortable process, but that being uncomfortable is one of the main reasons he is doing it.

“In Canada, we have clean water, and it just doesn’t make sense that our neighbours, brothers, and sisters in these remote areas don’t have access to clean water. That’s why I felt I needed to raise awareness for this specific issue by catching people’s attention and by doing something a little bit shocking by jumping in cold water for 30 days …

“That’s been my take on this whole journey: ‘That sure was uncomfortable, but do you know what’s more uncomfortable? Not having clean water.’”

According to The Council of Canadians, in 2018 there were 174 drinking water advisories in Indigenous communities across Canada – some of which have been in place for decades. The most common of these is the boil water advisory, where water must be boiled before it is consumed, and where water presents health risks for bathing amongst the young and elderly.

any people have lived under water advisories for much of their lives.

Amongst all Indigenous communities, The Council of Canadians states that “73 per cent of First Nations water systems are at high or medium risk of contamination.”

The long-term instability of water systems in these communities is one of the main reasons Cheff chose to work with Water First Education.

“They have internships that are allowing communities to know about what clean water standards look like, how to achieve them, and all the tests that are required in order to maintain them. So now we have people that are passionate water keepers, know what the standards are and how to maintain them.”

The federal government has done substantial work to lift these water advisories, as they have resolved more than 90 of them since 2015, but they will fall short of their promise to resolve them all by March 2021. Part of this failure, of course, is due to the drastic changes brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Cheff thought that the pandemic was the right time to begin his campaign.

“Because of what’s going on with COVID-19, there’s no follow up right now. It’s almost not prioritized because of the pandemic that’s going on, so because of that, it’s almost being forgotten again. So I think that is one of the big reasons I thought now is a good time.”

So far, his efforts to bring this issue back into people’s minds have not gone unnoticed. The Cold Water 4 Clean Water Facebook page, where donations are accepted, has grown to nearly 200 followers in its first two weeks, and Cheff says that members of the community are beginning to get involved. He has had co-workers, elementary school students, and others begin to reach out about participation. Recently, 11-year-old Ayden Latour went with Cheff on his daily swim.

“When I started this I didn’t have any expectations other than posting on social media trying to get what I’m doing out there, by going out for thirty days. [Now] it’s picking up enough steam that people want to get involved. Like today, an 11 year old – Ayden – got involved. Ayden is excited to be part of something out of the norm. For me, it’s inspiring to know that somebody that young is taking an interest in this matter.”

Given the community outreach and enthusiasm Cheff has received, he said that he will continue campaigning in future years “if the water epidemic in Canada is not resolved.”