When the evacuation of Neskantaga First Nation due to contaminated water made international headlines last fall, then-chief Chris Moonias urged Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and other federal politicians to visit the remote northwestern Ontario community to see for themselves how people live under Canada’s longest on-reserve boil water advisory.
During a tour of Indigenous communities on Monday, NDP Politician Jagmeet Singh became the first federal leader to accept Moonias’ offer. The NDP is hoping that Singh’s visit would capitalize on the Liberals’ setback by luring Indigenous voters away from them. In 2015, a record number of Indigenous people cast ballots, helping to win a majority Liberal government led by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Along with visiting Neskantaga, Singh visited with forest fire evacuees from northern Ontario First Nations, who are pleading with Ontario’s Progressive Conservative government to provide greater assistance. He was also the first federal leader to visit the former Kamloops Indian Residential School site at Tk’emlps te Secwépemc, where a ground-penetrating radar specialist discovered 200 probable burial sites.
Singh’s visit took place entirely outside of the national media limelight, with no major press team accompanying him – an uncommon approach at a time when an election announcement is likely within weeks. “We’ve simply spent the last year and a half virtually doing a bunch of stuff,” McGrath explained. “I think the impact of government actions on individuals is much more evident if you’re there in person.”
When you witness the mold in poor housing, the amount of people that have to live under one roof in close proximity, and the consequence of contaminated water, it really brings it home.