The federal government is committing more assistance for a northern Ontario reserve facing challenges with its water supply, Indigenous Services Minister Seamus O'Regan said Monday, adding that more medical officials will be visiting Attawapiskat First Nation this week.
"That anxiety level is real and my job is to allay those concerns," he said. "On that front, I have not done my job. I need to do that. I need them to have faith in their water system."
O'Regan, who paid a visit to the community himself on Sunday, said in an interview the officials will meet with parents and families to discuss their concerns about chemicals in their water and to ensure children get the attention they need.
Earlier this month, Attawapiskat declared a state of emergency due to concerns about disinfection byproducts called trihalomethanes in its water.
The declaration prompted two NDP MPs, Charlie Angus and Tracey Ramsey, to visit the community last week. Angus called on the minister to do the same.
O'Regan said Monday he is "deeply humbled" he was given a chance to follow through.
Government technicians will go to Attawapiskat on Tuesday to take a look at the water system, O'Regan said, adding there is a $1.5-million plan for immediate repairs to the existing treatment plant. His office has also said clean drinking water is available from a second system.
O'Regan said he drank tapwater provided to him during his visit — not because he was trying to make a spectacle but because he wanted to relay his own confidence in the water system to the community.
He said the important point is the measures he laid out and the acknowledgment that community members are going to be as anxious as any other Canadian would be when confronted with concerns over their water supply.