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UPDATE: Maude Barlow addresses Assembly of First Nations meeting

The Toronto Star and Postmedia News are reporting this evening on an Assembly of First Nations Special Chiefs Assembly that took place in Gatineau, Quebec today. Council of Canadians chairperson Maude Barlow addressed the meeting of nearly 1,000 First Nation chiefs and councillors. Auditor General Sheila Fraser, and four Liberal MPs, including Bob Rae and Carolyn Bennett, were also in attendance.

Barlow spoke about water as a human right and how the Harper government has opposed this right at the United Nations, including abstaining at the historic vote at the General Assembly this past July. She also highlighted that Evo Morales, the president of Bolivia, who we have worked with on the right to water and sanitation, climate justice, and the rights of Mother of Earth, is a great Indigenous leader who needs their solidarity. Read her speech here.

The Toronto Star reports that, “Ottawa springs into action when there’s a crisis anywhere else in the world but ignores thousands living in remote First Nations communities that lack even running water, native leaders say. ‘Clean running water in every home is basically what we need,’ Manitoba’s Grand Chief David Harper said Wednesday. About 1,000 homes in the First Nations of Northern Manitoba ‘have no running water and many with no plumbing of any kind.’ …He urged the federal and Manitoba governments to work together to begin the $60 million job of retrofitting homes with running water and sewage hookups over the next two years. …Chief Garrison Settee of the Cross Lake First Nations in Manitoba said clean running water is a basic human right.”

Postmedia News adds that, “A group of First Nations chiefs from Manitoba wants the federal government to agree to provide clean running water for all reserves in that province within two years — a commitment the opposition (specifically Bob Rae) says is ’eminently doable.’ … (Chief David) Harper said a $60-million commitment would ensure that homes for 65,000 people are retroactively fitted with sewer systems, running water and bathrooms. Chief Michael Yellowback, who travelled from Manto Sipi Cree Nation, a 700-person reserve about 600 kilometres northeast of Winnipeg, proposed the two-year ultimatum. ….’How many more people in northern Manitoba First Nations must get sick with the flu or other disease just because they can’t wash their hands?'”

“A spokeswoman for Indian Affairs Minister John Duncan said that, since 2006, the government has committed $2.5 billion in water and wastewater infrastructure for First Nations. Spokeswoman Michelle Yao also said that ‘we recognize more needs to be done to address this serious issue’, and that is why the Conservatives introduced Bill S-11 in the Senate which would create federal regulations for drinking water and wastewater in First Nations communities. The bill is at second reading in the Senate.”

The Assembly of First Nations has been highly critical of S-11. They have stated that, “Bill S-11…does not include a plan to reduce the unacceptably high numbers or the duration of First Nations drinking water advisories; does not help to license operators; does not provide resources to improve operations and maintenance; does not lower the number of water and wastewater treatment systems currently at risk; and could negatively impact First Nations water rights.” More on this can be read at http://www.afn.ca/article.asp?id=4920.

The Toronto Star article is at http://www.thestar.com/news/canada/article/907746–ottawa-ignoring-crisis-at-home-native-leaders-say. The Postmedia News report is at http://www.montrealgazette.com/news/Manitoba+chiefs+want+federal+commitment+safe+drinking+water/3983670/story.html.

The AFN meeting is also being webcast at http://download.isiglobal.ca/afn_en/2010-12-14_15_16/index_english_high.html. The meeting continues to December 16.

View Maude Barlow’s speech here.