The First Nations water crisis is beyond a national embarrassment. It should be seen as a national crime that the basic human right to water is seriously at risk in First Nations communities across Canada.
According to a Globe and Mail investigation, and backed up by the government's own data, about 150,000 aboriginal people living on reserve do not have reliable access to a safe supply of drinking water.
Children that are bathed in the available water often end up with painful rashes or other skin conditions like psoriasis and eczema. Water wells are contaminated with uranium, among other things, including cancer-causing by-products that are used to treat the dirty source water.
As of this summer, there are 158 boil-water advisories in place for 114 First Nation communities and while that may seem startling enough, it does not reveal the full extent of water problems facing First Nations communities. There are reservations that lack basic housing let alone running water, which leaves people relying on overpriced bottled water, cisterns and water brought in on trucks and well water which causes illnesses such as gastrointestinal disorders due to contamination.
Just imagine if 150,000 people in Toronto had no access to clean drinking water.
Criminal charges were filed in the Flint, Michigan water crisis where both current and former state employees were charged with misconduct among other crimes. The problem wasn't fixed for two reasons if we are honest: it's expensive and mainly low-income black people were drinking it.
Another case that immediately came to mind, and was also referenced in the Globe and Mail report, is one near my home. In Walkerton, Ontario 2,300 people fell ill and seven died after breakdowns in the local water system. The region's public health officer later said the catastrophe was probably preventable. A public inquiry was held, people were charged and the government offered compensation to settle a class action lawsuit as well as invested millions in infrastructure to prevent future outbreaks. So southern Ontario has become a very safe place for water.
Not so lucky the 150,000 aboriginals though. Just imagine if 150,000 people in Toronto had no access to clean drinking water. The outcry would be massive and the issue would be addressed immediately no matter the cost.
It is ultimately up to governments to ensure citizens have access to basic necessities. That's what taxes are intended for. And the government of Canada, through complex history, legislation and funding, has specific responsibilities for First Nation communities. They have had many years of information, experience and opportunities to prevent or provide remediation for the water situation but for the most part, they have failed miserably when it comes to aboriginal people.
With the election of the Liberals, many signs indicate it will be a new relationship with the federal government and First Nations. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has pledged to eliminate all boil-water advisories on reserves within five years, which many leaders are doubtful will happen. While I hope we skeptics are proved wrong and he makes good on that promise, I am also aware of how very basic a promise it is. Think about it. How long would it last that people in southern Ontario were on regular boil-water advisories?
The Government of Canada should launch a comprehensive review into communities with unsafe water, identify the causes, determine the remedies and hold people accountable. Any corporation, individual or group contaminating water or willfully knowing water is poisoning people and letting them drink it should be held criminally responsible.
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There are currently over 60 First Nations languages in Canada grouped into 12 distinct language families, according to Statistics Canada.
Before European Settlers came to Canada, it was not uncommon for Aboriginal women to hold equal power to men, and even had to ability to take the power away from the chief, reports UBC. Women’s suffrage in Canada was not granted until 1918.
The North American headdress was earned, each feather representing an act of bravery.
There are over 600 different tribes in Canada each with their own culture and belief system.
The High King of France commissioned Giovanni da Verrazzano to reach Asia by sailing around North America in 1523. He described the coastline as densely populated and full of bonfire smoke, saying it could be smelt from hundreds of miles away at sea. Some academics place the American Aboriginal population at 50 million while some argue it to have been 100 million. Today’s First Nations population of Canada falls around 1.4 million.
During the early days of colonization, Britain saw Aboriginal people as essential to protecting their colonies and considered them powerful allies who helped battle the French during the Seven Year War and fought off American invasion during the War of 1812.
First Nations people played a major role during the fur trade between the 17th and 19th centuries, which attracted merchants from around the world.
Archaeology tells us that aboriginal people have lived in the Maritimes provinces of Canada for at least 11,000 years.
After the decline of the fur trade and the end of the War of 1812, more settlers came to Canada, creating a large enough population to protect their own borders. First Nations were seen as impeding on economic development and were sent to live on isolated reserves, while more land was set aside to accommodate new settlers.
Aboriginal people have the youngest demographic in Canada, with a median age of 28, while the median age for non-aboriginal Canadians is 41.
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