Ottawa pledges $12M to upgrade water services for Sioux Valley Dakota Nation

A southwestern Manitoba First Nation is using $12 million in federal funding to ensure on-reserve members have access to potable water for generations to come.

Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations Marc Miller was in Sioux Valley Dakota Nation, located 260 kilometres west of Winnipeg, Tuesday announcing $12 million in federal funding to help build water and wastewater system upgrades.

“This is an announcement that’s been a long time coming,” Miller said. “To make sure that you had the financial support to affect the lives of a few 1,000 people in the community that will be better served by [a] newer water system with state-of-the-art capacity to make sure that your water is safe.”

As part of the upgrades, a water treatment plant is set to go to tender in three weeks and construction is expected to begin in August. The overall construction schedule is anticipated to take about 12 to 16 months.

A woman wearing glasses and a ribbon skirt speaks at a podium.
Sioux Valley Dakota Nation Chief Jennifer Bone says the upgrades will nearly double services to reach around 4,000 people. (Chelsea Kemp/CBC)

Chief Jennifer Bone says the upgrades were essential to supply water for the future projected population and expansion areas in Sioux Valley Dakota Nation. Work on the project began in 2019 when water was flagged as a priority in the nation, and a water and wastewater assessment was completed soon after.

The current water treatment plant was built in 1991. It services 187 connections throughout the community using water mains and 110 buildings get water delivered by truck.

Community members currently get water using pipe connections from the water treatment plant, truck haul services and individual private wells.

Bone said the community plans to eventually bring the majority of homes and businesses onto a piped water supply from the water treatment plant, which she says will be able to supply nearly 4,000 people.

An older Indigenous man shows a a man wearing a ribbon shirt a beaded pendent.
Sioux Valley Dakota Nation elder Oswald McKay shows Miller a beaded pendent gifted to the minister. (Chelsea Kemp/CBC)

Bone said the new water treatment plant will help address housing needs in Sioux Valley, and the social and economic issues that result from access to safe and adequate housing.

“I know we’ve had problems over the years with our water treatment plant,” Bone said.

“We had to make a big decision way back when if we wanted to continue with upgrades or if we just wanted to start with completely new construction.”

The funding comes from the Indigenous Community Infrastructure Fund announced in the 2021 budget. Funds are used to support infrastructure projects like wastewater facilities, health facilities, cultural facilities, schools and housing.

Federal support for clean drinking water

There are currently three First Nations with long-term boil water advisories in Manitoba. Long-term water advisories become so after a year of short-term advisories don’t get solved. 

Miller says Services Canada is working with those communities — Mathias Colomb, Shamattawa First Nation and Tatskweyak Cree Nation — to ensure people can have quality water. 

“Every community has their particular need,” Miller said, adding that there are now “so few” long-term boil water advisories left to be lifted.

He said securing potable water for these communities remains a priority for the federal government.

“Being relentless about making sure that those communities get the resources that they need and the support of the Government of Canada is important,” Miller said.

Miller also met with the First Nation’s chief and council and toured the former Brandon Residential School site during his visit. Preliminary searches have suggested there could be potential unmarked grave sites on and around the former school’s grounds.   

A woman and man smile at each other.
Sioux Valley Dakota Chief Jennifer Bone, left, and Minister Marc Miller tour the site of the former Brandon Residential School (Chelsea Kemp/CBC)

Miller says the federal government will do what it can to support those searches.

“There is a search for truth, and something that people in my position have long denied Indigenous people is the right to know where their loved ones are, to get just … even a small amount of closure.”