Xeni Gwe’tin First Nation is celebrating the connection of power and water services to homes on their reserve which had been without, until now.
“It’s a pretty big accomplishment,” said Xeni Gwet’in Chief Jimmy Lulua.
Until last week, only half of the reserve in the Nemiah Valley, 187 kilometres southwest of Williams Lake, had power and water.
Lulua said many of those living in the unserviced end of the reserve were elders, who had wood heat and many used propane to run their fridges and stoves.
“I think it made our elders really tough and strong,” said Lulua of the lifestyle, but he also sees the community ready to move forward and how providing these services can help.
He now believes it will be easier for these elders to stay in the community longer and have better relationships with their children and grandchildren, who might have struggled with adjusting to a lack of power and having to pack water when visiting family in the remote community.
“Going out at minus forty to chop a hole in the ice to get water is not that fun,” he said. “I think the elders are going to really appreciate that.”
Luxuries like being able to use a bathroom in their house and being able to have in-house laundry is something which will make life easier, especially for seniors.
He also hopes it helps with staff retention, so professionals and newcomers to the area don’t have to experience such culture shock.
With the cost of fuel to run diesel generators and the reliability and affordability of no longer having to purchase specialized appliances to run off-grid, the cost of living will now be lower for these residents and services will be more reliable, creating greater food security as well.
“I think it’s going to be a big ripple effect.”
Lulua said residents could go through about 19 litres of fuel per day to run generators and propane pilot lights could blow out in storms, leaving families without refrigeration or cooking stoves.
“I think that they’re pretty excited, just to know they can afford a fridge,” he said of those living in the newly serviced homes. He was hopeful the affordability and added food security meant many families could likely afford Christmas gifts they may not have before this.
The homes had to be wired and plumbed, in addition to bringing the services themselves to the houses.
The project has taken nearly three years to complete, with the initial sticking point to get started being over the water treatment, as the elders were opposed to treating their mountain water with chlorine. When the federal government had wanted to take the community off of a boil water advisory, Lulua said he spoke to Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations Marc Miller. Lulua told him the government had not yet met their level of expectations by not servicing half the community with water yet.
Lulua said elders in his community told them their bodies were not used to the chlorine and they did not want it in their systems.
“Our glacier-fed water has always been good,” explained Lulua.
The sticking point over water treatment required him to invite officials to the community to show them the will of the community was behind him. They held up the city of Quesnel as an example of the water treatment plant using ultraviolet light.
“We had to jump through some hoops,” said Lulua, but seeing the project through has been gratifying.
“Some days being a chief is pretty tough, but days like this you kind of realize that you’ve done something.”
The power is solar and battery with diesel generator as a backup only in situations where the solar batteries run low, also lowering the carbon footprint of the community.
Lulua himself had grown up without running water and power and relied on propane, a generator and packing water for most of his life in the community, and more recently moved into a part of the valley where he now has power and water.