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Six Nations still without the right to water

The Hamilton Spectator reports, “Ohsweken Six Nations officials celebrated the opening of a long awaited $41-million water treatment plant Friday, but they acknowledged drinking water woes on the reserve are far from over. Only 500 homes, businesses and other users in the immediate community of Ohsweken have been connected to the new state-of-the-art plant, leaving nearly 2,200 residences having to pick up water from a reserve pumping station or find potable water through some other means.”

Last April, the Spectator reported, “The lack of drinkable tap water is a fact of life for most of the 12,146 people living on the Six Nations reserve — the most populous in the country. As many as four out of five homes in this community are not connected to water lines, relying instead on wells or cisterns that are almost universally contaminated by run-off from nearby farms, industry and human waste. More than 300 homes have no access to water of any kind.”

Today’s article highlights, “After years of pressing for federal assistance with the project, Paul Martin’s Liberal government made a $10 million commitment to the plant in 2006.” And that after “years of delays and escalating cost estimates, the Harper government eventually agreed to $26 million in support.” The Ontario provincial government didn’t contribute any funding to the plant. And so the band council had to negotiate a bank loan for more than $15 million to move forward with the water treatment plant.

“The band council’s long-term plan is to have every residence on the reserve connected to the plant on Pauline Johnson Road…” The cost to do that would be $120 million, and Six Nations Band Chief Ava Hill says by the time they could gt that money the cost would be even higher. For now, “The next step will be to try raise more than $40 million to extend water service to a couple of elementary schools and various homes along the way.”

In the April 2013 article in the Spectator highlighted the story of 81-year-old Six Nations resident Bertha Skye. In that article, she says she doesn’t have clean drinking water and doesn’t expect that to change anytime soon. She says, “They keep talking about running water, that one day we’ll get water. But it won’t be in my lifetime.” In our blog at that time, we noted that Skye would be speaking about this situation at an upcoming Council of Canadians Hamilton chapter meeting.

The Council of Canadians has repeatedly called for a 10-year plan investing $4.7 billion for water and wastewater facilities on First Nation reserves.

The Six Nations of the Grand River First Nation is located about 35 kilometres west of Hamilton. We will undoubtedly be raising these right to water and sanitation issues when the Council of Canadians holds its 29th annual general meeting in Hamilton on October 3-5, 2014.