July 26, 2021 — Wabaseemoong Independent Nations, Traditional Ojibway Treaty #3 Territory, Ontario — Indigenous Services Canada
Today, the Honourable Marc Miller, Minister of Indigenous Services, and Chief Waylon Scott, Wabaseemoong Independent Nations (Wabaseemoong), met in community to celebrate the signing of the Relationship Agreement: Comprehensive Response to Mercury and Human Health in Wabaseemoong Independent Nations. While a signing ceremony took place in September 2020 virtually because of pandemic restrictions, Minister Miller welcomed Chief Scott’s invitation to visit the community.
The relationship agreement addresses the unique health needs of Wabaseemoong residents by creating a seamless system of primary health care, public health and other needed health supports. It also outlines Canada’s commitment to provide up to $19.5 million to support the design and construction of a mercury wellness centre in the community.
The day started with a boat tour of the English River to better understand the history and ongoing impacts of mercury contamination in the river system. The tour included a visit to Wabaseemoong’s One Man Lake Reserve, from which community members were displaced following the development of an Ontario Hydro dam downstream in the 1950s. The community tour then transitioned to the water treatment plant and distribution system, which are undergoing significant repairs and upgrades. This project is expected to be complete in fall 2021 and will support the lifting of the First Nation’s long-term drinking water advisory, which has been in effect since 2017.
Minister Miller also congratulated Chief Scott on the progress being made at tripartite coordination agreement discussions in support of Wabaseemoong Independent Nations’ exercising jurisdiction over child and family services. On January 8, 2021, the Wabaseemoong Independent Nations Customary Care Code became the first Indigenous law in Canada to receive force of federal law under An Act respecting First Nations, Inuit and Métis children, youth and families. A final coordination agreement and fiscal arrangement are expected to be reached in the coming weeks. The coordination agreement will be the first of its kind signed in Ontario and the second in Canada, following the coordination agreement the Prime Minister recently signed with Saskatchewan’s Cowessess First Nation on July 6, 2021.
Minister Miller also announced approval of $1.5 million to support Wabaseemoong Independent Nations’ capital needs related to band representative services. This funding will be used to construct a building specifically for delivering services to families in the community. This funding is in addition to $2.8 million for band representative services’ operations and programming that was approved in June 2021.
“Today’s meeting with Chief Waylon Scott reaffirms the Government of Canada’s commitment to renewing and strengthening its relationship with Wabaseemoong Independent Nations. Despite challenges posed by the pandemic, community leaders have moved a number of their priorities forward and we will continue to ensure that they have the support needed to address their communities’ unique health needs.”
The Honourable Marc Miller
Minister of Indigenous Services
“We are pleased to be able to host Minister Miller after what has been a difficult 18 months. We continue to work in partnership with Canada to address longstanding priorities in the community. The ongoing impacts of mercury poisoning on our people and community are immense, but through the mercury wellness centre and a more comprehensive health care system, we are hopeful that our members will begin to see better health outcomes. Given the challenges of the pandemic, especially for our community early in 2021, I must express my sincere appreciation to the minister for his support in our response, which allowed us to overcome a significant outbreak.”
Chief Waylon Scott
Wabaseemoong Independent Nations
- Methylmercury contamination in the English-Wabigoon River system, discovered in 1970, caused exposure among people residing in Wabaseemoong Independent Nations. This resulted in the negotiation and signing of a Memorandum of Agreement in November 1985. The agreement was supported by passage of the federal Grassy Narrows and Islington Indian Bands Mercury Pollution Claims Settlement Act and the Ontario English and Wabigoon River Systems Mercury Contamination Settlement Agreement Act in 1986. These Acts provided for the establishment of a Mercury Disability Fund and a Mercury Disability Board to oversee the administration of the trust fund for benefits paid to claimants showing symptoms of mercury exposure.
- The federal government and Ontario provincial government, together with two pulp and paper mill companies (Reed Limited and Great Lakes Forest Products Ltd.), paid a total of $16.67 million in a one-time compensation payment to WIN and Asubpeeschoseewagong Netum Anishinabek.
- WIN is currently conducting a Community Health Assessment, which is expected to be completed in 2022, that will identify the health needs of community members, including infrastructure, in the form of a mercury wellness centre, programs and services. This assessment will guide the development of a distinctions-based comprehensive health service delivery plan.
- Indigenous Services Canada has approved $8.8 million in support of the First Nation’s project to repair the water treatment and distribution systems.
- Under a devolution agreement, the Kenora Chiefs Advisory regularly monitors the community’s drinking water systems for chemical parameters.
- In Ontario, First Nations, Tribal Councils, and First Nations Child and Family Services Agencies are reimbursed for their actual costs of providing band representative services, pursuant to orders issued in 2018 by the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal.