(Shoal Lake 40 on the Ontario, Manitoba border has been under a boil water advisory for 17 years)
APTN National News
The Chief of Attawapiskat says he hopes Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will also visit his community in Ontario’s James Bay region following a stop in Shoal Lake 40 for a Vice documentary video shoot.
Trudeau is scheduled on Thursday to visit Shoal Lake 40, an Ojibway First Nation on the Manitoba-Ontario border that was cut off from the mainland 100 years ago to allow for the construction of an aqueduct to supply fresh water to Winnipeg.
Shortly after attaining power, the federal Liberal government announced it would be funding a $46 million all-weather road for Shoal Lake 40. The Manitoba government and the City of Winnipeg are also funding part of the project.
For 17 years the First Nation, which was left on an artificial island, was under a boil water advisory while the water that severed it from the rest of the province filled the drinking glasses of Winnipeg.
Vice issued a press release Wednesday trumpeting the event, billing it as Trudeau’s “first-ever visit” to a “remote First Nations reserve.”
While the struggle of Shoal Lake 40 became a national issue, Trudeau’s visit to the community is off-limits to all media except for Vice which arranged the event for the planned documentary.
The Prime Minister’s Office’s public notice of Trudeau’s itinerary said the prime minister’s visit to Shoal Lake 40 was a “private” event.
Attawapiskat Chief Bruce Shisheesh, whose remote, fly-in Cree community has been gripped by a suicide crisis, said he was glad to see Trudeau visiting First Nations, especially Shoal Lake 40.
Shisheesh said he hoped the prime minister would also visit Attawapiskat.
“I would like to invite the prime minister to Attawapiskat because the youth would love it,” said Shisheesh.
A widely circulated photo that emerged in midst of the crisis which began April 9 showed a list drawn up by Attawapiskat youth of things they would like to see in their community.
One of their requests was a visit by the prime minister.
Shisheesh said Attawapiskat is still struggling with suicide. Just this month, there have been 46 suicide attempts in the Cree community, he said. There are about 32 youth who are currently at a high risk of suicide.
“I worry about them,” said Shisheesh.
He said a visit by Trudeau would leave a deep impact.
“This prime minister would deposit good things in their heart,” said Shisheesh.
Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett and NDP MP Charlie Angus visited Attawapiskat last week. Bennett said the government would fund the construction of a youth centre and bring youth from the region to visit Ottawa.
Trudeau has also tweeted his support for Attawapiskat youth in the midst of the crisis. In one tweet, the prime minister singled out Amy Hookimaw, 13, who wrote a widely circulated Facebook post about youth in her community who felt that nobody cared.
The PMO’s decision to allow only one media company access to the prime minister’s visit to Shoal Lake 40 came under fire from reporters and others on Twitter.
— Daly de Gagné (@DalydeGagne) April 28, 2016
— Susan (@smithjosephy) April 28, 2016
In response, a Liberal government spokesperson defended the decision tweeting: ‘The government of Shoal Lake 40 and the PMO mutually agree on the nature of the visit but it’s Shoal Lake 40 that controls access to reserve.’
Trudeau is expected to arrive in Shoal Lake 40 on a helicopter.
Attawapiskat sits about 500 kilometres northeast of Timmins, Ont.
Shoal Lake 40 sits about 276 kilometres slightly southeast of Winnipeg.