Water advisories are not limited to First Nations. At any given time there are upwards of 1,400 water advisories issued throughout Canada. Water security in this country is something that should concern everyone. Nevertheless, the severity and duration of water advisories in First Nations communities is nothing short of scandalous.
Health Canada reports that as of September 30, 2012, there were 116 First Nations communities across Canada under a Drinking Water Advisory. That is nearly 20 per cent of all First Nations communities. This number has stayed pretty steady over the years. Between 1995 and 2007, one quarter of all of water advisories in First Nations lasted longer than a year. Sixty-five per cent of these 'long-duration' water advisories lasted more than two years.
Neskantaga First Nation, bordering the Ring of Fire in Northern Ontario has been on a boil water advisory since 1995. You can read about that community as well as five others in this Polaris Institute publication, Boiling Point.
Another aspect of this problem is the fact that some First Nations do not have running water at all, and thus are not counted when water advisories are tallied. In Manitoba alone, 10 per cent of First Nations have no water service. Across Canada, there are 1,800 reserve homes lacking water service and 1,777 homes lacking sewage service.
If you are asking yourself how this is even possible in a country like Canada, the Auditor General highlighted the main problem areas in 2005:
- No laws and regulations governing the provision of drinking water in First Nations communities, unlike other communities.
- The design, construction, operation, and maintenance of many water systems is still deficient.
- The technical help available to First Nations to support and develop their capacity to deliver safe drinking water is fragmented.
It is AANDC who defines the construction codes and standards applicable to the design and construction of water systems in First Nations communities, and the Auditor General found that these codes and standards are extremely inconsistent and poorly followed up on. In addition, the AG found that water testing by Health Canada is also inconsistent, hampering the ability to detect problems in water quality before a crisis arises. Added to this, most of those operating water treatment plant operators in First Nations are not properly trained for their position.
In 2007 the Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples issued two major recommendations to improve the quality of water available to First Nations. First, an independent assessment of the problem was needed. This was completed in April of 2011. The report called for about $5 billion over 10 years to address current deficiencies and keep up with projected First Nations population growth.
The second recommendation was that the federal government should consult with First Nations to develop legislation to fill the regulatory gap. Instead, the federal government has proposed Bill S-11, which was then replaced by Bill S-8. Unfortunately, the Canadian Environmental Law Association noted three major problems with the proposed legislation:
- The bill does not respect constitutionally protected Aboriginal rights.
- There is no long-term vision for First Nations water resource management.
- First Nations governance structures are not being respected.
These concerns have been echoed by the Assembly of First Nations and a number of Members of Parliament. The bill does not lay out a funding formula and is very unclear as to how safe drinking water will actually be provided to First Nations.
First Nations have been working very hard to develop a national strategy to address this decades-old issue. Rather than imposing more top-down solutions, it is time for the government of Canada to actually engage in meaningful consultation with those impacted by the lack of safe drinking water in First Nations communities. A solution cannot be built by money and good intentions alone.
A more detailed version of this article can be found on the author's blog, âpihtawikosisân.
Canadian soldier Patrick Cloutier and Saskatchewan Native Brad Laroque alias "Freddy Kruger" come face to face in a tense standoff at the Kahnesatake reserve in Oka, Quebec, Saturday September 1, 1990. Twenty plus years after an armed standoff at Oka laid Canada's often difficult relationship with its native peoples bare in international headlines, the bitterly contested land remains in legal limbo. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Shaney Komulainen)
A warrior raises his weapon as he stands on an overturned police vehicle blocking a highway at the Kahnesetake reserve near Oka, Quebec July 11, 1990 after a police assault to remove Mohawk barriers failed. Twenty plus years after an armed standoff at Oka laid Canada's often difficult relationship with its native peoples bare in international headlines, the bitterly contested land remains in legal limbo. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Tom Hanson)
A Quebec Metis places a stick with an eagle feather tied to it into the barrel of a machine gun mounted on an army armored vehicle at Oka Thursday, Aug. 23, 1990. The vehicle was one of two positioned a few metres away from the barricade causing a breakdown in negotiations. Twenty plus years after an armed standoff at Oka laid Canada's often difficult relationship with its native peoples bare in international headlines, the bitterly contested land remains in legal limbo. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Bill Grimshaw)
A Mohawk Indian winds up to punch a soldier during a fight that took place on the Khanawake reserve on Montreal's south shore in 1990. The army broke up the fight by shooting into the air. Twenty plus years after an armed standoff at Oka laid Canada's often difficult relationship with its native peoples bare in international headlines, the bitterly contested land remains in legal limbo. (CP PHOTO)
Two aboriginal protesters man a barricade near the entrance to Ipperwash Provincial Park, near Ipperwash Beach, Ont., on Sept. 7, 1995. (CP PHOTO)
Ken Wolf, 9, walks away from a graffiti-covered smoldering car near the entrance to the Ipperwash Provincial Park in this September 7, 1995 photo. A group of aboriginal protesters were occupying the park and nearby military base. (CP PHOTO)
Caledonian activist Gary McHale (right) is confronted by a Six Nations Protester as he attempts to lead members of Canadian Advocates for Charter Equality (CANACE) in carrying a makeshift monument to Six Nations land in Caledonia, Ont., on Sunday February 27, 2011. CANACE claim inequality in treatment for Caledonian residents from Ontario Provincial Police compared to that of the Six Nation population. They planned to plant a monument of six nation property to demand an apology from the OPP, but were turned back by protesters. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young
First Nations people of the Grand River Territory stand with protest signs as they force the redirection of the Vancover 2010 Olympic Torch Relay from entering The Six Nations land Monday, December 21, 2009 near Caledonia, Ontario. The Olympic torch's journey across Canada was forced to take a detour in the face of aboriginal opposition to the Games, with an Ontario First Nation rerouting its relay amid a protest from a splinter group in the community. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Dave Chidley)
Six Nations protesters guard the front entrance of a housing development in Hagersville, Ont., just south of the 15-month aboriginal occupation at Caledonia on Wednesday, May 23, 2007. The protest was peaceful. (CP PHOTO/Nathan Denette)
Mohawk protestors block a road near the railway tracks near Marysville, Ont. with a bus and a bonfire Friday April 21, 2006. The natives showed their support to fellow natives in Caledonia, Ont. where they were in a stand off with police regarding land claims.(CP PHOTO/Jonathan Hayward)