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How students and teachers can take action for clean water in First Nations

“What they found when testing the water [in the 1990s] was that some of the wells had high uranium content. You’re not to use that water to drink,” [Chief Jean-Guy Whiteduck of Kitigan Zibi] told me. “Most people are using bottled water to cook and to drink. They don’t feel secure because you take the water, it looks clean, but it’s got uranium above the norms.”

In 2018, the National Observer reported on the Do Not Consume advisory that has been in place in the Kitigan Zibi community for two decades. Kitigan Zibi is “in Western Quebec, less than two hours away from Parliament Hill and Canada’s capital region. And yet, when it comes to basic human rights such as access to clean drinking water, [60-year-old Mohawk grandmother and traditional medicine keeper Sandra Diabo] says “it feels like a struggle every day of existence.”

“We have 93 different communities under 133 different boil water advisories across the country. [Serpent River First Nation] Chief Isadore Day has called for within five years there should be zero, and I’ve told the Chief and I’ve told First Nations many times, we agree with that, and a Canadian government led by me will address this as a top priority because it’s not right in a country like Canada that this has gone on for far too long.” This was Justin Trudeau’s commitment just before he was voted in as prime minister in October 2015. The Liberals offered similar promises in 2019.

However, the report, Glass half empty? Year 1 progress toward resolving drinking water advisories in nine First Nations in Ontario, released by the David Suzuki Foundation and the Council of Canadians, warned that the federal government will not meet its commitment to end all drinking water advisories (DWAs) affecting First Nations within its five year commitment if it does not make bold changes to current processes.

Download this water drop

The Council of Canadians is supporting teachers who are educating young people about the lack of clean water in First Nations. The Council createdthis water drop for teachers working with their students to hold the Trudeau government to its promise of ending DWAs.

If you are an educator, here are some suggestions on an exercise for students to write a letter to Prime Minister Trudeau calling for an end to DWAs. These suggestions can be adapted to high school and other grade levels:

1. Write one or two lines about why is water important to you.

2. Write one or two lines about drinking water in First Nations. Include water facts like:

  • At the start of 2017, there were 144 drinking water advisories (DWA) in place in 95 First Nations. Roughly half have been in place for five years or more. Some like Shoal Lake No. 40 and Neskantaga First Nations have had DWAs for nearly 20 years. This has gone long enough. 
  • In 2011, a study found that $889 million is needed every year to address the water crisis in First Nations. But the Canadian government has only given $1.8 billion for five years ($360 million per year). I’m writing to ask you to give more funding to end this shocking crisis. Your government must also speed up and simplify the process for First Nations to obtain funding for water infrastructure. (Check Glass half empty? Year 1 progress toward resolving drinking water advisories in nine First Nations in Ontario, for more recommendations.)
  • The UN has recognized the human rights to water and sanitation and call on all governments to these rights by developing national plans of action and ensuring affordable water services for everyone.
  • The Canadian government must also obtain free, prior and informed consent as called for by the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples for decisions affecting water.
  • See the back of the water drop for other info.

3. Write one or two lines about why you think Prime Minister Trudeau must take action to ensure everyone, including Indigenous peoples, must have clean drinking water in Canada.

4. At the bottom of the letter, write your name and school. Research the Indigenous traditional territory on which you live as well as the watershed.

5. (Optional) Take a group photo with students holding up the water drop before mailing the letter back to us or for students who use social media, take a photo of your hand written letter. Tweet the photo or post on Instagram and tag the Prime Minister @JustinTrudeau and the Council of Canadians @CanadiansOrg #WaterIsLife #Right2Water.

6. Mail the water drop letters back to us at the Council of Canadians, 200-240 Bank St., Ottawa, ON, K2P 1X4. The Council of Canadians will collect and deliver the messages to the Trudeau government.

Water is life. We must all take action until the Trudeau government delivers on this critical promise.