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POTLOTEK: The federal government has committed to replacing Potlotek’s water treatment plant.

The Reporter contacted Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) Tuesday morning, and media relations officer Shawn Jackson confirmed the federal government is partnering with the First Nations community.

“Through Budget 2016 investments, the Government of Canada has partnered with Potlotek First Nation on a new water treatment plant that will be designed for iron and manganese removal,” Jackson stated. “The design work is scheduled to start as quickly as possible.

“All Canadians – including First Nations – should have access to safe, clean and reliable drinking water and the ongoing water issues Potlotek First Nation is experiencing is simply unacceptable.”

More than a week ago, Potlotek residents gathered to express their displeasure regarding the water issues that plague their Richmond County community.

Residents maintain that water flowing from their taps is thick, black and unfit to bathe with or drink. The water is reported to contain high levels of manganese an iron. Boiling the water does nothing to fix the problem, as doing so increases the concentration of both manganese and iron.

The water found in the sinks of neighbouring communities like St. Peter’s — less than a ten-minute drive away — is fine.

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On September 28, representatives of INAC met with representatives from Health Canada, the Atlantic Policy Congress of First Nations Chiefs and the Council of Pot lotek First Nation to discuss immediate and short-term ways to aid the community.

INAC committed to working with the Nova Scotia Emergency Measures Organization to find locations where community members can do laundry and take showers. Increasing the amount of bottled drinking water was also on the INAC’s agenda, as well as helping to deliver bulk water for bathing and cleaning. It was also decided that Health Canada will ask Dr. David Butler-Jones, Senior Medical Officer with the First Nations Inuit Health Branch, to meet with Potlotek residents to discuss the health effects of the dark water.

Lenore Zann, provincial  NDP Critic for Aboriginal Affairs, says the issue is representative of the inaction and lack of resources from the provincial and federal Liberal governments with respect to water infrastructure in First Nations communities.

“If this was happening in Truro or Port Hawkesbury, there would be immediate government action to resolve the water problems, but because it is in a First Nations community, people are being told to sit around and wait. Why is that acceptable to the Liberals?” Zann said in a press release.

Cape Breton-Richmond MLA Michel Samson took to Facebook to express his concern for the people of Potlotek. Samson noted the matter falls under federal jurisdiction, but he added that he and the McNeil government want to assist in whatever way they can.

“The Premier has instructed officials to offer any support necessary to help the residents of Potlotek,” his post read. “This work is ongoing, and I will keep everyone posted.”

Samson noted that he spoke with Potlotek Chief Wilbert Marshall and Cape Breton-Canso MP Rodger Cuzner about the matter.

Marshall spoke to The Reporter last Friday, and he said he was happy to see help from neighbouring communities like Eskasoni.

In terms of a long-term solution, the chief suggested only one route is worth pursuing.
“They might as well fix the problem right up front and start drilling wells,” he said.“That’s what we’re trying to have done; we’re going to do it.”

Last Friday afternoon, Marshall said, was a day of protest in Potlotek, as residents took to the main road to have their voices heard.

“I have the lead protester right here,” the chief said, introducing Bernadette Marshall, who the chief referenced as his “advisor.”

Bernadette Marshall said community members handed out flyers to passing traffic.
The protest was an effort to have their voices heard, she said.

“Everyone is frustrated and angry,” she said. “We want safe water — no more lake water. We want an environmental study on the health risks of drinking this water, and the third thing we want is no more waiting.”