Federal Indian Affairs Minister Ron Irwin was clearly appalled by what he saw. Irwin had travelled to the remote Pukatawagan Indian community, about 750 km northwest of Winnipeg, to see for himself the contaminated water supply that had been making people sick and that prompted more than 200 residents to embark on a protest march to the Manitoba capital. The march began on July 10 after a nine-year-old boy became the ninth person in the community to get hepatitis from foul water in the last year. The provincial health department blames the problems on a leaking sewage lagoon and a federally built water intake system that was designed to serve 250 people (the band’s current population is 1,700). “To see raw sewage going into a river that people drink from is terrible,” Irwin said after touring the area. ‘We’ve got debt problems, but as rich as we are, this shouldn’t be happening in Canada.” Following his visit, Irwin met with Chief Ralph Caribou for three hours in a teepee in The Pas, 200 km south of the community. He emerged from that meeting to announce that Ottawa will spend more than $11 million over several years to upgrade the community’s sewage and watertreatment systems. Until the system is fixed, Ottawa also promised to ship clean water to Pukatawagan by rail. In response, many of the marchers decided to head home. But according to Chief Caribou, more than half planned to continue on to Winnipeg “as a show of aboriginal
solidarity and to thank First Nations and people right across Canada for the tremendous support they have given us.” Irwin later announced a $300,000 grant to help solve problems with drinking water at the Garden Hill First Nation reserve, 610 km northeast of Winnipeg.
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