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14th September 2021
By Chelsea Kemp, Local Journalism Initiative ReporterBrandon Sun

Fri., Sept. 10, 2021

Facing a crisis of continuous boil-water advisories, Canupawakpa Dakota Nation has constructed the Mni Wiconi Water Station to ensure its members have easy access to clean drinking water.

The Mni Wiconi (Water is Life) Water Station was an initiative launched by Canupawakpa Chief and Council, said Canupawakpa Health Services health director Carol McKay-Whitecloud. Ensuring access to clean drinking water was essential to maintaining the health of nation members, and chief and council specially allocated funds to create the water-filtration system for the community.

“We didn’t receive funding for that purpose [of building a filtration system]. It was funding that they were able to allocate,” McKay-Whitecloud said. “In the light of COVID and communicable disease, we had to do something.”

The initiative came together quickly, and she is grateful to have the water resource available in the community. A grand opening for Mni Waconi was held on Aug. 24.

Each Canupawakpa household has been provided with a 19-litre jug to fill for free at the centre. The water-filtration system uses reverse osmosis providing pure or mineral water to community members. It is open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. every day.

The station has proven to be an essential resource for Canupawakpa community members because at any given time the community will have boil-water advisories in place.

The need for a facility was heightened during COVID-19 due to the demand for safe access to clean water in a sanitized environment and the limited transportation options some members faced.

“Transportation is a challenge in all First Nation communities; not everybody has vehicles, it costs money to put fuel in, it costs money to register them. So, a lot of our low-income families rely on catching rides with people and co-ordinating that with community members,” McKay-Whitecloud said. “It’s been difficult. We have a lot of elderly, we have a lot of chronically ill community members, same with newborns. We want to ensure that the water is good and clean and they don’t need to boil it.”

Before the installation of the facility, the nearest areas to secure filtered water were in Reston, located 20 kilometres west, or Virden, located 30 kilometres north.

For those without access to transportation, these trips were not possible.

The community response to the new water-filtration system has been very positive, she said, and members are grateful to have access to the free resource.

McKay-Whitecloud added from a cultural perspective water is incredibly important in the First Nation.

“Our bodies are composed 60 per cent of water. We value water in our culture — water is life,” she said. “Without it, we can’t survive.”

The majority of families in the nation have wells or cisterns to access water, and often require water to be boiled for use.

“We don’t have a water treatment plant like other communities,” McKay-Whitecloud said. “Why isn’t that available? We should all have that in this day and age.”

McKay-Whitecloud noted some Canupawakpa community members are required to boil water to make formula for their babies, to cook, clean or engage in other common household chores.

The challenge boils down to adequate funding and infrastructure support in the community, she said. It can be upsetting lacking access to clean drinking water because the community is in southwest Manitoba, the oil capital of the province.

It is discouraging to see First Nations continue to struggle with contaminated water in 2021, she said, adding it has been disheartening to see Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the federal government fail to end First Nation boil-water advisories in the country as promised.

Trudeau vowed to safely end boil-water advisories on all reserves within five years in 2015. These comments were later walked back in December 2020.

“Funding for infrastructure, it’s always a challenge. It’s underfunded in every First Nation,” McKay-Whitecloud said.

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