The Inuit and the Cree of Great Whale are working together on a project slated to bring their communities up to today’s living standards.

The project involves revamping the underground water system, to make it available to all three communities (Inuit, Cree, non-native). Currently, the Inuit are the only ones without an aqueduct system.

One of the big problems with the current system is the amount of salt water that seeps into the water supply. Aside from contaminating the water, the salt eats away at the pipes.

“We believe that this way we’ll be able to provide water that’s fresh and clear for all three communities, and salt free,” said Pierre Roussel, the municipal secretary treasurer for the Inuit. “We’ve been working towards something like this since I started working for the municipality, 15 years ago.”

The old system has been around since the 1950’s, when the army had bases in the north, and the settlements were seen as temporary.

With over 1,500 permanent residents in Great Whale, the owners of the current system, Société Immobilier du Quebec (SIQ), were looking to “normalize” their operations in the north by transferring this operation to the municipality. The municipality balked, due to the age of the system, and the SIQ decided they would provide the funds to build a new system in the upper part of the village.

Money was also obtained from the Kativik regional government.

The municipality has also started building a sewage treatment plant which will be located on the Inuit side of Great Whale. These projects will serve both communities, and will cost the Inuit roughly $7 million for the sewage plant. For their part, the Cree will be spending roughly $1.4 million on the underground water pipes.

The work on these projects started in August, and is scheduled to take two years for the whole project to be fully completed.

In the past, the Inuit had to truck in their water, and get rid of their sewage in the same way. Sewage was often dumped at a dumpsite, or into Hudson Bay.

Funding for the Cree side of the project came partially from the Gathering Strength program, set up to aid native communities across the province. Another source of funding was the federal “rust out” program which is available to anyone across the country. This program was created to upgrade existing infrastructure, as well as to build essential services in communities across Canada.

Discussions with the province to secure the funding needed for the Inuit side of the project was difficult. Roussel believes this had to do with the fact that the other Inuit communities have permafrost; therefore the money for a project such as this will never have to be spent in the other communities.

Also, the thinking in the community was that the old system created jobs. They needed people to haul the water and the sewage. The new system will eliminate those jobs, and there are mixed feelings about that.

The project will employ 12 Inuit and 12 Cree on a full-time basis.

John Shem, director of operations for Whapmagoostui First Nation, stressed that the project has nothing to do with the Paix des Braves agreement.

This project was already in the works, and none of the money allocated to Great Whale through the agreement was spent on this project.