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NEWS: Manitoba chief meets Pope, asks him to address right to water in Canada

CBC.ca reports, “David Harper, grand chief of Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak (MKO), the agency representing chiefs in the province’s north, had a 15-minute audience with Pope Benedict XVI inside the Vatican on Wednesday. Harper used the opportunity to talk about the plight on reserves regarding access to safe and clean drinking water.” At their meeting, Grand Chief Harper invited the Pope to visit First Nations communities in northern Manitoba.

The Winnipeg Free Press adds, “‘I told him that I know this is an international issue and it needs to be addressed and he said he agreed,’ Harper said by telephone. He said the Pope told him there is a need for greater advocacy on the issue to ensure all people have access to clean, running water. ‘His response was that he will remember us and that he’ll make efforts for an urgent call for advocacy to get it done.'”

In late-February, the Vatican News Service reported that, “Reasonable access to clean water is a fundamental human right and its distribution should not be left solely to private companies seeking profit, a top Vatican official said. Bishop Mario Toso, secretary of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, told participants at a meeting regarding the future of water supplies around the world that water is not a commercial product but rather a common good that belongs to everyone. People have a ‘universal and inalienable right’ to access, a right that is so fundamental that ‘governments cannot leave its management solely in private hands,’ he said.” More on the Vatican’s position on the right to water is at http://canadians.org/campaignblog/?p=6603.

In mid-February, the Winnipeg Free Press reported that, “First Nations leaders from northern Manitoba are taking their water crisis to the United Nations. Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak Grand Chief David Harper (said) the lack of running water in more than 1,000 homes in northern Manitoba is a violation of the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous People. MKO plans to ask the UN to investigate the violations of rights imposed by the lack of water.” More on that at http://canadians.org/campaignblog/?p=6455.

The CBC adds, “The Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs has launched a postcard campaign to raise awareness about the situation. The cards feature a photo of a young boy, his face covered with a rash, and a bold headline stating: Water is a human right. The postcards, addressed to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, seek to embarrass the federal government into doing something about the problem.” We’ve posted that postcard to our website at http://canadians.org/campaignblog/?p=7039.

“Harper said he and a handful of other chiefs who were also in the meeting, gave the Pope a gift consisting of a pair of handmade slippers and a set of gauntlets. ‘He said that he would wear that when he comes up to Canada,’ Harper said, adding the chiefs also ‘handed him a letter stating that we want him up into one of the MKO regions on his next visit.’ While the Pope was receptive to the idea, there is no confirmation he has any plans to visit Canada just yet.”

The CBC article is at http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/north/story/2011/03/23/mb-first-nations-pope-invite-manitoba.html, the Winnipeg Free Press article is at http://www.winnipegfreepress.com/local/pope-makes-water-vow-to-native-group-118563339.html.