Life without water and electricity: the harsh reality of an Algonquin village

In the heart of La Vérendrye Game Reserve, an hour’s drive from Val-d’Or, lies the village of Kitcisakik. An Algonquin community of 300 souls who still live without running water and electricity.

The reason; the Kitcisakik Anicinapes have always refused reserve status and must negotiate piecemeal with Quebec and Ottawa for services or their projects.

“We are considered squatters on our own land. It is unimaginable to live in these conditions,” laments chef Regis Penosway.

An everyday life in survival mode

The residents of Kitcsikatik therefore have to rely on wood heaters for heat and generators for light.

A huge generator and pumping station also supplies the village’s public infrastructure with energy and water, including the municipal administration, the school, the pharmacy, the day-care center and a sanitary building.

“In everyday life, everyone is responsible for getting their own gas so that their generator gets light. Get your kettle from the sanitary building. If your neighbor runs out of wood, bring it to him. The community spirit is still there,” explains Jimmy Papatie, Director of Natural Resources.

He is also responsible for the wood yard. “If a senior needs firewood, we bring it to them. If a generator needs repairing, we take care of it,” he continues.

A toilet block for families

Another challenge is the water supply. Citizens have to go to the pumping station to get drinking water in huge jugs.

In the heart of the village there is also a sanitary block with showers, toilets and washing machines.

“We’re not complaining. Our toilet block is nice and clean. But what is certain is that 2022 should not be like that. I also want to shower at home,” explains Loretta Papatie, a young mother who takes two little girls to the shower right after school.

“I have other things to do at home and it’s still a long way away. I have to get the firewood, do the evening routine,” she continues.

During the Omicron wave, the supply of drinking water to local residents became a major issue.

“In one day we had 27 cases. That’s huge for us! We’ve hired health teams on the ground to ensure drinking water is delivered to families, children, vulnerable people and the elderly,” explains Director General, who is also in charge of emergency response, Doris Papacy.

The toilet block even had to be closed for a month to contain the spread, while the community also grapples with an issue of overcrowding in homes.

The dream of a new village

For almost 30 years, the band council has harbored the dream of building a new “Wanaki” village, which means land of peace and would provide the community with modern infrastructure. The current site is saturated with houses that are too small and poorly insulated.

“The village file has been closed for several years. The officials told us “You don’t want a reserve, we’re closing”. It was always on her terms. But the reconciliation that is taking place in the country is changing,” testifies Jimmy Papatie.

Chef Régis Penosway also remains hopeful. “We were told it would be two years before we were affiliated with Hydro-Québec if we signed today. But we want to agree on our status,” he explains.

A resilient people

Despite it all, the village continues to evolve, a development that, according to Jimmy Papatie, who lived through the era of residential schools like his generation, initially went through healing.

“We burst the abscess we were in. (…) We decided one day that if we invest in people and bring them to recovery, that person will be more productive in a few years, instead of paying society dearly. We’ve gone from 100% alcohol and drug problems to 70% sobriety in 30 years. Most anicinape work here. All of the infrastructure we have here has pushed us to create jobs. This is our greatest success!” he explains, touched.

Still, he is aware of all the progress that has been made, but also of the challenges that await future generations, who he hopes will have access to basic services such as water and electricity.

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