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NEWS: First Nations drinking water situation unacceptable

Barlow speaks to AFN Special Chiefs Assembly, December 2010
Barlow speaks to AFN Special Chiefs Assembly, December 2010

CTV reports that, “Sheila Fraser’s last status report as auditor general, tabled in the House of Commons (yesterday), looked at worsening conditions in key areas on (First Nations) reserves, including education, water, housing and child welfare. …Fraser, who has seen 16 First Nations audits, said many of her key recommendations have either been sidelined or implemented half-heartedly, frequently leading to no change or deterioration. …Drinking water is also a major concern. Water-quality testing is done only sporadically and more than half of reserves’ drinking water systems are at risk, the report said.”

The Canadian Press adds, “When it comes to drinking water on reserves, the federal government has drafted legislation to ensure its safety, but concrete changes are years away, the report warns. In the meantime, water-quality testing is being done sporadically, and key information is not being shared. More than half of reserves’ drinking water systems are at risk, the report said.”

Postmedia News highlights, “More than half of the drinking water on First Nations reserves poses a risk to the people who use it and the shortage of housing has doubled since 2003, from an estimated shortage of 8,500 homes to more than 20,000 now. However, Assembly of First Nations National Chief Shawn Atleo (said) that water quality and housing shortages are even worse than illustrated in the report. Atleo said people are living on reserves with slop pails and no running water, and that 75,000 First Nations citizens are exposed to unsafe drinking water daily.”

Additionally, “There are still no legislated standards for water quality on reserves, even though provinces have laws and regulations in place to ensure the safety of drinking water supplies. As of March 2010, more than half of water systems on reserves still posed a ‘medium or high risk’ to the communities they served, the audit found. Indian and Northern Affairs and Health Canada don’t ensure that drinking water is tested on a regular basis or according to the government’s own guidelines for drinking water quality. For example, between 2006 and 2010 Indian and Northern Affairs conducted only 25 of 80 required annual inspections in 20 First Nations community water systems from three regions where advisories on drinking water quality had been issued. The audit warns First Nations reserves could be years away from having the same drinking water protection that other Canadians take for granted.”

The Assembly of First Nations and the Council of Canadians have both supported the Alternative Federal Budget’s call for $1 billion to be spent this fiscal year to build, upgrade and maintain water and wastewater infrastructure in First Nation communities (as well as $1 billion in 2012-13 and 2013-14). In both the March 22 and June 6, the Harper government has failed to provide the funding necessary to meet the drinking water and sanitation needs of First Nations peoples.

And while the Harper government abstained at the historic July 2010 United Nations General Assembly vote recognizing the human right to water and sanitation, both the Assembly of First Nations and the Council of Canadians welcomed the UN resolution. National Chief Shawn Atleo said, “This resolution establishes new international standards and, in affirming that clean water and sanitation are a basic human right, compels Canada to work with First Nations to ensure our people enjoy the same quality of water and sanitation as the rest of Canada.”

The Council of Canadians has highlighted that the Constance Lake First Nation in Ontario declared a water emergency in their community on July 28, 2010, the same day the UN recognized water as a basic human right. Constance Lake Chief Arthur Moore has said that, “Access to a safe and useable water supply is a right of every person living in this country.” More on that at http://canadians.org/campaignblog/?p=5442. We have also noted that Grand Chief David Harper, who represents all northern Manitoba First Nations through Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak, has argued that water must be recognized as a human right in Canada and that the Grand Chief of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, Grand Chief Ron Evans, has launched a ‘water is a human right’ postcard campaign. More on that at http://canadians.org/campaignblog/?p=7039.

The Toronto Star has reported, “Maude Barlow, Council of Canadians national chair who fought for the UN resolution (on the right to water), urged all First Nations to start using the resolution in their struggles to get the federal government to honour its commitment to provide clean water to aboriginal peoples.”

On December 15, 2010, Council of Canadians chairperson Maude Barlow spoke to nearly 1,000 First Nations chiefs and councillors at the Assembly of First Nations Special Chiefs Assembly in Gatineau, Quebec. She will be speaking to the Assembly of First Nations 32nd Annual General Assembly this coming July 12-14 in Moncton, New Brunswick.