Health Canada recently released the names of First Nation communities under drinking water advisories (DWAs). As of May 31st, 2014 there were 130 DWAs in 91 First Nation communities across Canada (not including British Columbia*). The information and lists can be found in English and French.
The DWAs are a black eye for the Canadian government, pointing to the long standing and systemic failure to provide clean, safe drinking water to indigenous communities. 29 communities have been under water advisories for over five years, 14 communities have been under water advisories for over ten years and three communities have been under water advisories for over 15 years. This means that half of the communities have been under a water advisory for at least over five years.
To break down the number of DWAs regionally, there are 4 communities under DWA in the Atlantic region, 2 currently in Quebec, 45 in Ontario, 6 in Manitoba, 25 in Saskatchewan and 16 in Alberta.
The National Assessment of First Nations Water and Wastewater completed in 2011 found that 73 percent of water systems in First Nation reserves are at high or medium risk and that $1.2 billion was required to meet the federal government’s own protocols for safe water and wastewater.
While the lists on Health Canada’s website do not reveal the trigger for the DWA , a 2011 access to information request revealed the reasons for some of the DWAs. Some of the advisories included 'Do Not Consume' orders where boiling the water still does not make the water safe and drinkable. For example, In Kitigan Zibi First nation has been under a ‘Do Not Consume’ order since 2004 because of an ‘unacceptable level of uranium.”
The lack of clean and safe drinking water in indigenous communities is one of the gravest violations of the human right to water and sanitation.
Last month, four First Nations - Tsuu T'ina, Ermineskin, Sucker Creek and Blood First Nations – filed a lawsuit against the federal government for its failure to provide safe drinking water. They cited violations of s. 7 and 15 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. To read the Council of Canadians statement of solidarity, click here.
As outlined in the Alternative Federal Budget, the Council of Canadians is calling for a national water policy that includes a 10-year plan investing $4.7 billion for water and wastewater facilities on First Nation reserves. To send a letter to Prime Minister Stephen Harper and prime minister hopefuls Liberal Party Leader Justin Trudeau and NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair demanding a national water policy, click here.
We cannot stand idly by while our indigenous friends are denied the most basic of human rights. Leading up to the 2015 federal election, how will you ensure your local candidates commit to the $4.7 billion needed so that water and wastewater systems are able to grow with First Nation communities over a 10-year period?
*NOTE: Health Canada notes, "As part of the British Columbia Tripartite Framework Agreement on First Nation Health Governance, on October 1st 2013, Health Canada transferred its role in the design, management, and delivery of First Nations health programming in British Columbia to the new First Nations Health Authority (FNHA). Therefore, Health Canada no longer reports drinking water advisories in British Columbia First Nations.
It should be noted that drinking water advisories are also issued by provincial or territorial governments in many non-First Nation communities across Canada, especially those communities that are small, remote and/or isolated."