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UPDATE: Hamilton chapter meeting to highlight Six Nations right to water issues

The Hamilton Spectator reports, “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.”

“A $41-million water treatment plant under construction just north of the Grand River is touted as part of the solution. Expected to open this fall, it will more than quintuple the capacity of the existing system and push drinkable water to the 480 homes in Ohsweken already on water lines. A proposed 800-home subdivision on the north edge of the reserve will also be on the system, says Chief Bill Montour. But it doesn’t fix the issue. Instead, it complicates it. To begin with, the plant won’t improve access for the roughly 2,200 homes, schools and businesses that aren’t on water lines. Montour has a five-year goal to extend water lines to every home on the reserve, but the cost — about $120 million — is a problem. So is the community’s existing wastewater system, which isn’t capable of handling an expanded load.”

“In a perfect world, money would come from the federal government. According to the Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada website, water and wastewater infrastructure is its responsibility. But the feds aren’t paying, at least not for anything over and above the $26 million they contributed to the new plant. …In 2011, the federal government released the results of a nationwide assessment of First Nations water and wastewater systems. It found close to 75 per cent of the water systems on 571 reserves that participated pose either a high or medium risk to human health, and it would cost $4.7 billion on top of annual operating and maintenance budgets to bring them up to par. More than 300 systems were classified as high risk. At the time, the government made a commitment to invest in improvements at 72 of them — a band-aid solution that some politicians say addresses only part of the problem. …In January, the Harper government re-announced $330 million for new infrastructure over the next two years.”

“(Chief Montour) knows better than to rely on the feds for funding, and he’s exploring other possibilities. He says public-private partnerships are one option, as is selling treated water from the new plant to the non-native homes bordering the reserve, such as those in Brant County. He’s also considered a water utilities commission, which would essentially provide water to residents for a fee.”

“Montour and others say a long-term solution to the reserve’s ground and surface-water woes that eradicates rather than treats contamination could easily be ‘a hundred-year project’. A hundred years. To secure what the United Nations has declared a fundamental human right.”

The Hamilton Spectator article highlights the story of 81-year-old Six Nations resident Bertha Skye. 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.” Skye will be speaking about this situation at an upcoming Council of Canadians Hamilton chapter meeting. More on that soon.

The article can be read in full at–standing-still-running-water-remains-a-dream-for-most-on-six-nations.