Skip to content

Barlow & Lui call on federal party leaders to end the drinking water crisis in First Nation communities

InfographicA CBC News investigation has revealed that two-thirds of all First Nation communities in Canada have been under at least one drinking water advisory at some time in the last decade.

The CBC reports, “The Council of Canadians is spearheading a campaign that calls on the four federal party leaders to ‘end the drinking water crisis in First Nations communities’. In total, 119 organizations have signed an open letter to Stephen Harper, Justin Trudeau, Thomas Mulcair and Elizabeth May. …The letter demands a 10-year investment, with $470 million annually, to be put into water treatment and wastewater systems in First Nations.”

The article highlights, “Maude Barlow, the national chairperson with the Council of Canadians, said she’s appalled by ‘the abusive nature that many First Nations are forced to live in.’ ‘These are Third World living conditions…. People living in First Nations communities are 90 per cent more likely to not have access to clean water or sanitation than other Canadians’, Barlow said. ‘You wouldn’t ask your neighbour to live like that. You would not ask your kids to live like that. We should not be allowing Canada’s First Peoples to live under these conditions.'”

It also notes, “Barlow said since 2008, the federal government has committed only $165 million annually to drinking water and wastewater systems in First Nations, despite the fact it had commissioned a national assessment that found that $4.7 billion over 10 years was needed.”

Another CBC news report similarly notes, “Chronic government underfunding of water systems is to blame for the lack of progress, said Emma Lui of the Council of Canadians. She said a national assessment commissioned by the federal government found $470 million was needed per year over 10 years. ‘Giving $165 million year after year is simply not enough’, said Lui.”

These CBC articles follow a Globe and Mail editorial board commentary yesterday about the drinking water crisis being experienced by Indigenous peoples.

Their editorial notes, “In July there were 133 Health Canada drinking water advisories in 126 First Nations communities. Ninety-three of them have been in place for more than two years. One-quarter have been ongoing for more than 10 years. And in a few communities, native residents have been boiling water since the 1990s. …The failure to provide safe drinking water on reserves has become chronic.”

The editorial board then firmly states, “This has to end. The next federal government should do an immediate audit of every troubled reserve system. It should then work directly with communities to fix the worst cases, and move on to the less urgent ones after that. If there are issues of sovereignty, local native governments and Ottawa should put them off until after the water is safe to drink. Every Canadian needs clean drinking water. It’s not a complicated position, morally or technically. The money is there and the problems are fixable. No more excuses.”

On October 13, the Council of Canadians and other members of the Water Solidarity Network – including the Shoal Lake 40 First Nation, the Assembly of First Nations, the Canadian Federation of Students, Amnesty International, the David Suzuki Foundation, the Public Service Alliance of Canada and the Polaris Institute – sent an open letter to federal party leaders calling on them to end the drinking water crisis in Indigenous communities. To read the full letter, please click here.

Further reading
Council of Canadians call on federal party leaders to ‘end First Nations water crisis’ (October 2015 CBC News report)
Bad water: ‘Third World’ conditions on First Nations in Canada (October 2015 CBC news report)
The Globe and Mail backs our call to end the First Nations drinking water crisis (October 2015 blog)