By Miranda Leybourne
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
SIOUX VALLEY- A new water treatment plant will be built in Sioux Valley Dakota Nation after the community’s current facility was deemed unfit to meet the area’s growing population.
Chief Jennifer Bone and Marc Miller, the federal minister of Crown-Indigenous relations, announced the new project in front of a crowd of around 60 people at the community’s Veterans Hall on Tuesday. Ottawa is contributing the full $12 million toward the project from the Indigenous Community Infrastructure Fund.
The failure to recognize and respect who Indigenous people in Canada are as first peoples of the land has led to a long history of reserves struggling with water infrastructure, Miller said.
Many Indigenous communities in Canada have suffered from long-term boil water advisories as a result of lacking infrastructure, including Mathias Colomb First Nation, Shamattawa First Nation and Tataskweyak Cree Nation in Manitoba.
“For too long, your people have not been recognized for who they are on this land ? You’ve been treated as immigrants in this land, and that’s something that’s fundamentally wrong,” the minister said.
“We’re committed to closing infrastructure and housing gaps faced by Indigenous communities in Canada. The funding allocated to Sioux Valley Dakota Nation announced today will help to support a brighter future for community members for generations to come.”
The new water treatment plant will be built to service 2,400 people, with the capacity to expand and service up to 4,000 people.
Bone said improving water accessibility and quality for residents is an important priority as the current water treatment system can’t support the reserve’s growing population and planned expansion.
“Our residents need a modern water treatment plant to get safe and reliable water. We want all houses and businesses to be connected to the new plant’s piped water,” she said.
Associated Engineering, a Canadian consulting company, has been hired by Sioux Valley for a pre-design of the water treatment facility, and confirmed that the present water treatment facility has reached the end of its service life and can’t fulfil current and future demands, a press release said Tuesday.
The design of the new water treatment plant is 90 per cent complete, and construction will take between 52 to 68 weeks.
The minister said First Nations people also deserve an apology for the ways the federal government has treated them over the years, which he will deliver in the House of Commons soon.
“Those are conversations this government is willing to take, as well as make a historic apology about the harm that failing to recognize who you are has constituted,” Miller said.
Oswald McKay, a Sioux Valley elder, said he felt hopeful after hearing the minister’s words.
“Today’s announcement was very significant to me,” he said.
“Water is an issue that has been in the news for a very long time and is still ongoing.”
Miller’s announcement symbolizes what McKay hopes will be “just the beginning” of an ongoing partnership between his First Nation and the federal government, the elder said. He is also looking forward to hearing Miller’s apology in the House of Commons.
“It’s nice to have 1/8Miller 3/8 here, to make that announcement. I truly feel positive about it,” he said.
After Miller’s announcement, he was presented with a piece of beadwork and a ribbon shirt by Bone.
Announced in the federal government’s 2021 budget, the Indigenous Community Infrastructure Fund was formed to support infrastructure projects relating to water and wastewater, health, cultural needs, schools and housing.
Starting in 2021-22, the federal government has allocated $6 billion in ongoing investments to support infrastructure in Indigenous communities for five years, including $4.3 billion to support immediate demands and $1.7 billion to support the operation and maintenance of First Nation community infrastructure on reserves.
Miranda Leybourne/ Local Journalism Initiative Reporter/BRANDON SUN/LJI is a federally funded program.