Cleaning up water in First Nations communities: Advice to Prime Minister-designate Justin Trudeau | Notes from the Panther Lounge | David Suzuki Foundation
Photo: Cleaning up water in First Nations communities: Advice to Prime Minister-designate Justin Trudeau

During the Blue Dot Tour, David Suzuki Foundation founders and staff met with the Shoal Lake 40 First Nation to discuss the right to clean water.

By Rachel Plotkin, Ontario Science Projects Manager

People living on First Nations reserves are 90 times more likely than other Canadians to lack access to running water. In the lead-up to the election, the David Suzuki Foundation, along with a number of First Nations communities and other organizations, urged each party to commit to end the drinking water crisis in First Nations communities once and for all. Canada's Prime Minister-designate Justin Trudeau promised on the campaign trail to end boil-water advisories in First Nations communities in five years.

What advice would I give Trudeau to help him fulfill this promise? I can sum it up in one word: relationships.

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As the previous government often voiced, federal resources have been put toward the issue of unsafe drinking water in First Nations communities. In fact, the past decade has seen a First Nations Water Management Strategy (2003-2008), a two-year Plan of Action for First Nations Drinking Water (2006-2008), Expert Panel Recommendations on Safe Drinking Water for First Nations (2006), the First Nations Water and Waste Water Action Plan (2008-2012) and Bill S-8, the Safe Drinking Water for First Nations Act, which was passed in 2013. Each initiative had an associated budget.

For various reasons, including inadequate consultation, insufficient capacity within communities to implement plans, confusion over roles and responsibilities of government agencies, lack of long-term strategies and not enough measurable indicators for safe water management, past initiatives have not been successful. Unsafe drinking water in First Nations communities across Canada remains a national crisis.

As of July 31, 2015, 133 drinking water advisories were in effect in 93 First Nations communities across Canada, excluding British Columbia. As of August 31, 2015, 27 drinking water advisories were in effect in 23 First Nations communities in British Columbia.

I have spent time in several First Nations communities in Northern Ontario where drinking and cooking water was distributed in half-litre water bottles. People were afraid to take showers because of the potential resultant skin rashes. Neskantaga has been under a boil water advisory for over 20 years. Can you imagine a situation like this not being addressed immediately in your city or town?

If Prime Minister-designate Trudeau is to address this complex issue with more success than his predecessors, he must realize that solutions cannot be imposed on communities. Rather, conversations must take place in government-to-government forums in partnership with First Nations. Government staff must develop relationships with the communities, working together to ensure that mutually beneficial goals are developed, sufficient capacity is in place to deliver plans and treaty rights and First Nations' jurisdictional authority are respected.

Plans must be co-developed that address each community's specific capacities, vulnerabilities and strengths; i.e., what would effective training programs look like in this community? Do pipes need fixing? Or a water plant? Or an entire watershed (as is the case in Grassy Narrows)?

Ultimately, Canada's failure to deliver this basic human right to Indigenous communities is not a First Nations problem; it is a national shame. We've seen that our future prime minister can hold his own in the boxing ring. Canada desperately needs him to uphold his safe drinking water promises to remove this reputational black eye.

October 28, 2015
http://www.davidsuzuki.org/blogs/panther-lounge/2015/10/cleaning-up-water-in-first-nations-communities-advice-to-prime-minister-designat/

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3 Comments

Mar 21, 2016
3:41 AM

The Manitoba gov. Is neglectful in listening to complaints from tax payers . Our experience with a pollution problem is nothing more then a nightmare . Government environment employees have been neglectful in enforcing Polluters to stop dumping sewar and waste into the ground . We are experiencing a neighbour with a 50 plus out house on a water front Property that the ground water runs through into the lake . The stench from this contamination is criminal and we have been told it meets all MB environmental laws . When is the gov. Going to take action to make these People be accountable to protect our waters and land . Fed up with these peoples lazy distructive attitude . Time to make them do some work and protect our country .

Oct 30, 2015
2:58 AM

“For various reasons, including inadequate consultation, insufficient capacity within communities to implement plans, confusion over roles and responsibilities of government agencies, lack of long-term strategies and not enough measurable indicators for safe water management, past initiatives have not been successful.”

I find this situation compelling in some sense but I wonder what the heck quotes like the above are really saying. It’s like this article lays blame somewhere but never actually identifies EXACTLY what events or misunderstandings have acted as roadblocks. How is anyone supposed to overcome the past screw-ups unless they are explicitly identified and stated? Political correctness and sensitivity be damned

Oct 29, 2015
7:37 AM

Objective: Potable water for every First Nation and Metis community

We require an inventory of water provisions in every single First Nations and Metis community across Canada.

Indicate what exists now including those communities where there is adequate potable water supplies. Then what is required to meet the objective:

Physical infrastructure Cost Timeline

This is an emergency mobilization undertaking that must be completed within four years … not started – completed. We possess the technological capabilities, resource and will to do this – so we must.

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