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About 1,000 kilometres separates the town of Walkerton, Ont., and the Attawapiskat reserve, but they share a similar problem -- unsafe drinking water.

The Attawapiskat First Nation is seeking standing at the public inquiry into what went wrong with Walkerton's water supply. The inquiry begins hearing applications today for standing by interested individuals and organizations.

The native community wants to be part of the inquiry because part of its mandate is to examine issues related to unsafe drinking water across the province.

"I believe my community is directly and substantially affected because the drinking-water policies, procedures and practices of the province, which may have been a cause of the events in Walkerton, also affect my community (and many First Nation communities)," Chief Ignace Gull of the Attawapiskat First Nation says in an affidavit to the inquiry in which he outlines his reasons for seeking standing.

Lawyer Murray Klippenstein, who represents the Attawapiskat First Nation, said his client's application for standing "shows how widespread the problem is."

For years, the 1,700 people who live on the Attawapiskat reserve on the western shore of James Bay, on the mouth of the Attawapiskat River, have had "chronic and serious problems" with their drinking water, Mr. Gull says in his affidavit.

The document also describes a water-supply system installed in 1976 to address the problem. That system draws water from a nearby lake which is too small and too shallow.

"The result is that water from the taps . . . is dirty and smelly most of the time. It has a yellowish or brownish or greyish colour, it has a putrid rotten egg smell, and it tastes unpleasant," the chief's affidavit says.

To make matters worse, tests from last week found that water samples from some of the reserve's tap water were contaminated with coliform and E. coli bacteria, although not the same deadly strain that was found in Walkerton.

Although repeated studies have recommended a new water source and a new treatment system for the community, the federal Department of Indian Affairs said it does not have the money.

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