Thursday, October 27, 2005

The Poisoned Well

When people started getting sick and dying of E. coli in Walkerton a few years back, the media quickly turned the incident into a condemnation of the Mike Harris government and its privatization policies.

The media has not been as quick to lay blame on any level of government for the disaster on Kashesechewan Reserve, even though the likely outcome of the E. coli outbreak there will be far more disastrous than Walkerton's:

The Ontario government ordered the evacuation Tuesday after national controversy over conditions on the reserve, with Queen's Park and Ottawa blaming each other for lack of action.

The remote reserve on the shore of James Bay suffers from severe water contamination, including potentially deadly E. coli because of longstanding problems with the local water treatment plant.

It was built downstream from sewage lagoons.

Almost 1,000 people suffer from skin problems due to the high level of chlorination necessary to disinfect the water. Both schools on the reserve — an elementary school and a high school — have been closed for over a week because of the water contamination.


Reserve residents hope getting away from the poverty-stricken comuunity, even for a few weeks, will help rid themselves of the nagging stomach problems and assorted skin ailments, and allow them access to intensive medical care for more serious conditions, such as diabetes.

The long-term effects of the Walkerton disaster were far less devastating for the town and its people than what's happening on this reserve, yet Walkerton got round-the-clock media coverage and a public inquiry.

The people of Kashesechewan Reserve have been forced to boil their water for years and live with irritating stomach and skin conditions, yet only now does anyone seem to care.

The reserve's band administration has apparently been failing for years to provide a clean water supply to its people, and has been poisoning its own people and leaving the reserve a ghost town.

Yet somehow we just accept that this sort of thing just happens on reserves, even though we would never accept it anywhere else in Canada.

If a town of 2,000 people in southern Ontario had to be abandoned because the municipal government decided that dumping sickening amounts of chlorine into the water supply was better than actually fixing the treatment systems, the media would have been condeming the municipal government for gross negligence.

But Indians are somehow just expected to suck it up and wait for the Great White Father to fix it, and their band councils do nothing because they know they'll get bailed out and never have to take real responsibility for their actions.

And no matter where these people are moved too, if attitudes don't change at the band council office, the same thing will happen again to the water supply there, or some other essential service.

Source: Toronto Star

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