Tu-Kanatan Inc. – Water pure and clean. A simple concept, a basic human right. So why are First Nations People still without this basic human right today? Who is working to fix what should have been fixed long ago? A feisty and proud First Nations woman by the name of Virginia Bruneau has taken up the battle.
“They should have had water treatment plants and sewage lagoons for First Nations and that’s what I’m fighting for. I want to bypass the Department of Indian Affairs and allocate those funds that are for water and housing and fix those people’s houses directly. There’s no need for all this money going to surveys,” said Bruneau.
When she was just a young girl Bruneau can remember asking her dad “Why don’t we have running water in our home?”
She told Diverge Media of what it was like growing up on a reserve in the seventies,
“My Dad would go into town every weekend, usually on Sunday nights and fill four cream cans that each stood roughly three feet high with water,” she said.
This water was made to last the week for Bruneau’s entire family.
“We would have to share the water when we had baths growing up to help save the water, we had no running water whatsoever,” Bruneau said.
This made something simple like going to the restroom more difficult.
“We had to go to the bathroom in little ice cream pails and my dad had a slop pail in the corner to dump the ice cream containers into. Whenever the ice cream got filled it was dumped into the pail and my father would clear it out everyday,” she recalled.
Her father had made an area behind the outhouse to dump the excrement into, which he covered up. This acted as a sewage holding tank to prevent it from running into the land.
“That’s how I grew up on a reserve in the 70’s,” she said.
Bruneau spoke fondly of her father who she says “never complained,” even though his past would have merited it.
Bruneau’s father’s parents were threatened that if they did not give their children (Greg and her Uncle Ralph) over to be brought to the residential school, then the grandparents would be thrown in jail. Under this Coercion they went.
Once there, the nuns at the residential school deemed her father and uncles names not “Christian enough” and changed her fathers and uncles last names. Her father Gregory Jacko didn’t originally carry the last name Jacko. His original name was Bisson.
“My dad was born June 11th, in 1914 and went to a residential school around the age of four or five. He was relocated out of Heart Lake Alberta to Onion Lake in Saskatchewan.
In roughly grade seven or eight her father left the residential school.
“He went to Cold Lake Alberta and began a career as a laborer working wherever he could. He finally got long term employment on the Cold Lake Airforce Base,” she said.
Bruneau spoke of her father with a radiance of excitement as she described her fathers accomplishments,
“My father worked all of his life. He worked on the school committee and went on the band council on the reserve at Cold Lake’s First Nations. He spent eight years on the school committee and 15 years on band council and never got paid, it’s all volunteer.”
She described her father as a “very intelligent man,” who “knew his rights.” Gregory Jacko met Virginia’s mother Hazel Jacko in 1949 and got married that same year. They had her sister Stella in 1952. Her Mom and Dad went on to have eight more children after Stella.
In 1970 Virginia’s father went to the Le Goff School’s annual meet the teacher – because he was on the school committee. “My dad saw the need for new schools as the portables where the students spent the school year didn’t have proper plumbing.”
It was at this time her father reached out to the chief of their Reserve,
“My dad had to take the strike action plan to the chief of our Reserve, at Cold Lake First Nations, Ralph Blackmen. He asked Ralph, if he would back him up on a strike action plan to acquire a brand new building for a school on their reserve.”
Chief Ralph Blackmen agreed,
Then they took their plan to the Minister of Education in Alberta, informing him they would be pulling the children out of school until a new school could be made. They then found arrangements to hold the strike “then my dad, along with all the other Band Councillors, along with our Chief, had to find an outlet to hold this strike action plan, they chose the CN Tower in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, because it housed the Indian Affairs office for all of Canada at the time.”
Her father also went out of his way during this time to ensure all voices were represented.
“He took people from Cold Lake first Nations, all the parents to the CN tower.” He would take those without a vehicle, often going multiple times throughout the day. That trip was a “three hour trip from Cold Lake to Edmonton there and back and sometimes he did it twice in a day out of his own pocket.”
That’s up to twelve hours of driving some days to ensure others could be represented, all without receiving any compensation.
After 9 grueling months of sitting in the CN tower hallways, the government of Canada sent Harold Cardinal the Minister of Indian Affairs to see Gregory Jacko. It was at this point Mr. Jacko was told “ok Greg, we will get you a new school built.” The surrounding area schools at this time had gotten on board with Gregory Jacko’s initiative and were also approved for a brand new school as a result.
“All the surrounding schools ended up getting approved because of my dads work, Greg Jacko. Frog Lake, Kehewan reserve beside Bonnyville and Saddle Lake all got approved for brand-new schools as well.”
It is her fathers hard work that has inspired her today.
“If my father can make a positive change like that, how much more can Canadians united make a change for freedom and stand for justice in this country?,” Bruneau said.
That brings us to Tu Kanatan Inc. (Water Pure and Clean).
Bruneau wants to bypass the Department Of Indian Affairs and work directly with homeowners to fix a problem that should have been fixed a long time ago — water on reserves.
“They should have had water treatment plants and sewage lagoons for First Nations and that’s what I’m fighting for. I want to bypass the department of Indian Affairs and allocate those funds that are for water and housing and fix those peoples houses directly. There’s no need for all this money going to surveys.”
Bruneau described the problem in further detail,
“In the 80’s, the Mulroney government decided to put in cisterns on these houses. They put these cisterns in and they made the sinks and bathrooms attached to the system.”
This sounds fine in theory, but they weren’t properly maintained,
“Some of these cisterns are getting filled up and not being maintained and they are filling the ground. The worse thing about the cisterns is they are getting cracked and broken. When they break they get mice, frogs, and snakes in there as well as dirt. When you turn on the tap it may look clean sometimes but your getting the dirt in it as well,” Bruneau said.
She knows what she needs to get started on fixing the problem,
“I need a half-tonne truck and a water testing machine.” She went on to say “Some of those cisterns are going to be pretty embarrassing to the government of Canada,” and “instead of putting all this money to surveys they could’ve given this money to me and I could’ve fixed it already!,” Bruneau exclaimed.”
She continued to describe another glaring issue in Native Affairs that needs to be heard,
“I don’t think Ontario knows that not one taxpayer dollar goes into First Nations issues. All revenue comes from those that are on First Nations. That’s why there is such an animosity between the non-First Nations and the First Nations. Because they think that their taxpayer dollars are going to First Nations issues which it’s not. That’s the way the government wants it, they want us to be separate and not know this stuff,” she explained.
What Canada needs to know is that there is a proud First Nations women fighting for Tu Kanatan, water pure and clean – and her name is Virginia Bruneau.
We need to support strong people like Virginia Bruneau who carry the torch into this fight. We know that our government has had more then enough time to fix this problem – so let us now pass the torch to a more deserving candidate.