Peterborough Kawartha candidates talk clean drinking water, residential school legacy at Curve Lake debate 

By Brendan Burke

 Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

CURVE LAKE-At a Curve Lake candidates debate Monday night, Green party  hopeful Chante White challenged Peterborough-Kawartha MP Maryam Monsef on the  federal government’s commitment to bringing clean drinking water to Indigenous  communities, nationally and locally.

“It just isn’t being done fast enough. You shouldn’t have to fight your own  Prime Minister to get something accomplished,” said White during the virtual  debate held over Zoom.

While White acknowledged Curve Lake First Nation’s progress on accessing  clean and safe drinking water, she said the federal government has been slow to  act in fulfilling its overall promise of lifting boil-water advisories in First  Nations reserves across the country.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made the pledge during his 2015 campaign, when  there were 105 advisories in effect. There are now 58 long-term drinking water  advisories in First Nations, according to Indigenous Services Canada.

In Curve Lake First Nation, after an uninterrupted long-term boil-water  advisory from 2016 to 2018, the community is set to establish a water filtration  system.

Monsef, working with Curve Lake officials, secured $2.2 million in federal  funding to design the system. A  recent lawsuit settlement with the feds over access to clean water is  expected to help bankroll the project.

Responding to White, Monsef touted Trudeau as “the first PM in the history of  confederation that’s pushed forward on reconciliation,” while “investing  historic dollars to try and do right by the first peoples of this land.”

“Where the fight is, Chante, and where the resistance is, is working within a  system that is built upon a colonial structure.

It’s based on racism. Undoing  that work and getting through red tape _ that takes time,” Monsef said.

White said “some of you know me as the woman who challenged Justin Trudeau  and Maryam Monsef to drink the water from Curve Lake. I did that because they  were telling people over 100 boil water advisories have been lifted and Curve  Lake is on that list.

They’re trying to imply that you can drink the water in  Curve Lake.

That is not true,” said White, adding that “Trudeau is misleading  people.”

Curve Lake First Nation Chief Emily Whetung interjected.

“Curve Lake does not currently have a long-term drinking water advisory. We  are thrilled with the settlement of our  class action which will bring us clean water very shortly,” she said.

NDP candidate Joy Lachica also attended the virtual debate.

Absent was  Conservative candidate Michelle Ferreri, who has said she is ill. Her campaign  has confirmed that she’s received her second COVID-19 vaccination dose Saturday  after initially campaigning while being partially vaccinated. A request for  comment on her absence Monday night was not returned to the Peterborough  Examiner by press time Tuesday.

Responding to questions from North Kawartha Coun. Colin McLellan and past  Curve Lake chief Phyllis Williams on the opioid crisis and lack of on-reserve  services, all candidates said there is a need for treatment and mental health  supports close to the reserve.

Along with traditional forms of therapy, “Indigenous and culturally-upheld  forms of support, healing and health,” are needed, Lachica said.

Monsef said the Liberals are committing $1.4 billion for a wellness strategy  with First Nations, Inuit and Metis nations.

“We’re going to be guided by communities, survivors and their families. If  Peterborough-Kawartha, with Curve Lake as the lead, wants to move forward to  bring a treatment facility with proper wraparound supports, I’m all in,” Monsef  said.

White noted the difficulty of leaving loved ones to access treatment outside  of the area, saying better supports are needed in rural communities “for the  delivery of land-based, trauma-informed community addictions care for Indigenous  peoples.”

Anne Taylor, who works for the education department in Curve Lake, asked what  the candidates would do to get a new school and daycare in the community, since  the current ones are old and small.

White said the Green party would invest more money into the community to  revitalize them, while Lachica said she would want to do “more research on the  federal framework for the criteria for what is optimum” and then itemize an  improvement plan.

Monsef said a feasibility study has been completed regarding a new school and  she is ready to move forward with that. On the daycare front, “the program we’re  introducing is not just going to save on child care fees  but we’re also saying  we’re going to build additional infrastructure” which will see tens of thousands  more early learning and childhood educators trained.

Monsef said confronting the painful legacy of Canada’s residential school  system will be a top priority for the Liberal incumbent if re-elected.

With the recent discovery of the remains of thousands of children buried in  unmarked graves at former residential school sites across the country, Monsef  said survivors are being re-traumatized.

“Those children are forcing us all to wake up. They’ve come back to tell the  truth and we can’t look away.”

When candidates were asked about their main priorities regarding Indigenous  issues, clean drinking water was on everyone’s list.

Brendan Burke is a staff reporter at the Examiner, based in Peterborough. His  reporting is funded by the Canadian government through its Local Journalism  Initiative.

Add Your Voice

Is there more to this story? We'd like to hear from you about this or any other stories you think we should know about. Contribute your voice on our contribute page.