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Running water coming at last to Island Lake

David Harper

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David Harper

David Harper can now foresee a day when his community -- along with several Island Lake First Nations -- have indoor plumbing.

"It took a long time, but at least we know people will have running water in days," the grand chief of Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak said on Monday.

"It's days now."

MKO represents 30 northern Manitoba First Nations.

For decades, residents of Garden Hill, St. Theresa Point and other Island Lake communities have had outdoor toilets, or had to haul water from communal standpipes or trucks. Of the 1,400 Island Lake homes, around 1,000 had no indoor plumbing.

Federal funding in 2011 helped retrofit most of the homes. About 200 remain without running water, but a federal spokeswoman said work from that funding injection continues.

On Monday, Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development minister Bernard Valcourt announced in Winnipeg $323.4 million has been set aside by the federal government over the next two years to for new projects improve waste-water and water issues on First Nations in Canada.

Part of that federal money will be allotted to Island Lake communities.

"We're closing the gap," Harper said.

Harper, who was raised in Garden Hill, welcomed the announcement.

"We have to start somewhere, right?" the chief said. "I mean, a year ago we wouldn't have anything at all."

For years, Island Lake leaders have been campaigning for improvements in water quality and delivery for their isolated communities, which are located about 600 kilometres northeast of Winnipeg, which have been described as having Third World conditions. A campaign to raise awareness for improved water quality has been ongoing since 2008, which sought to embarrass the Harper government to address the issue.

One of the campaign postcards showed a small child in a black-and-white photo, his face covered with a rash.

randy.turner@freepress.mb.ca

History

Updated on Tuesday, February 18, 2014 at 9:04 AM CST:
Corrects to Island Lake First Nation.

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