As stewards of the land, First Nations communities are playing a major role in the cleanup efforts of the July 21 oil spill.
The Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations organized a gathering in Prince Albert on Wednesday. Vice Chief Kimberly Jonathan was there for the pipe ceremonies and water ceremonies.
“We did a water ceremony asking for forgiveness from the Creator for what we as humanity have done to get us to this point of suffering. Our ancestors knew this; they knew this, they knew this through our grandfathers, and they knew this through prayer that this was going to happen through prayer,” Jonathan said.
Jonathan said she wasn’t just asking on behalf of First Nations, she asked for all humanity. She poured healthy water into the North Saskatchewan River in hopes of bringing healing to the polluted waters.
Jonathan said she hopes to see people working together, being led in a good way to solve this crisis.
Muskoday First Nation has been without water services since access to the Prince Albert Rural Water Utility was shut down on Sunday. Muskoday notified its residents who have since cut their water usage by 40 per cent.
“We’re barely maintaining sufficient levels for both of our reservoirs. We have trucks hauling (all day), however, our supply may be at risk right now,” said Randy Bear, the communications representative for Muskoday First Nation.
An emergency council meeting has been called within the community to try and figure out how to move forward according to Bear.
“Our manpower is taxed to the limit. Water supply is starting to come into question … We’ve got to ensure that we will have a continuous water supply for our community.”
Muskoday was getting its water from the surrounding communities of St. Louis, Hoey, and Waka. St Louis and Hoey have since stopped providing water as their own water levels are in question. A total of five water trucks are being used by Muskoday First Nation. Locals have borrowed a truck from One Arrow First Nation and have commissioned another until Friday.
Muskoday has been involved in conference calls with Husky Energy, representatives from the province, Indigenous Northern Affairs Canada, the federal government, and Prince Albert Mayor Greg Dionne.
In that call, Muskoday asked for a resident of Muskoday to sit on the emergency response panel set up by Husky Energy according to Bear.
Being a part of the Saskatoon Tribal Council, Muskoday First Nation has been provided with a water technician to help in their efforts which has been a tremendous source of help according to Bear.
James Smith Cree Nation is fortunate enough to not be part of the affected area, and is using its own water treatment system according to Bill Morin, the manager for public works in James Smith. Morin said their treatment plant is one of the best across the country.
“Fortunately our drinking water source is secure. Our oil fields are located maybe less than a kilometer away from the river, but the elevation of the lowest well we have is still higher than the river elevation,” Morin said.
Morin said he has been going to the river to check on the water as it passes by.
“I’m concerned about the impact it’s going to have on the environment. I’m concerned about the vegetation and the ecosystem. Being First Nations people, it’s part of our tradition to protect the environment, and that’s something I’ve been talking to people here about,” Morin said.
According to Morin, although the spill may not be the fault of any one person in James Smith, the community has to demonstrate that they are the protectors of the environment. He said that James Smith will be organizing its own water ceremony to honor the river and to pray for a quick healing process.
“I was (on the river) yesterday evening, and you could see the foam on the water. It was widespread all the way across,” Morin said. “I’m worried about the heavier stuff. Are we going to see (patches) of oil in the water? We’re not too sure… maybe it’s not our fault, but we have an obligation to do something, to try and help out with the situation.”
According to Morin, James Smith may use its clean water to help residents of Prince Albert if the situation starts drawing out over an extended period of time.
Morin is a member of a working group on water, which has a national representation. He said he will get in touch with his fellow members to discuss the oil spill in case it moves across the border into Manitoba.
“The damage has been done. We’re just trying to assess right now, the impact it’s going to have on our own water, our river here on James Smith. The extent (of damage) we’re not too sure, the impact it’s going to have on the whole system we’re not too sure,” Morin said. “It’s one of those things; hopefully it’s a once in a lifetime event.”