03/07/2012 01:48 EST | Updated 05/07/2012 05:12 EDT

Alberta reserves fight for safe drinking water

First Nation leaders from across the country are gathering at Enoch west of Edmonton this week to push for clean drinking water.

Enoch is hosting the the Assembly of First Nations National Water Conference examining water rights and how best to deliver safe drinking water to aboriginal communities.

"Our reserve has been under parts of a boil water advisory off and on for many many years," said Jim Badger, chief of the Sucker Creek First Nation west of Slave Lake, Alta.

Band members are often forced to boil water or buy bottled water, he said.

Sucker Creek is one of 29 reserves in Alberta where some kind of drinking water advisory is in place — nearly two out of three reserves in the province, said the chiefs, though the federal government puts the number at 27.

That's made clean water a priority for regional chief George Stanley.

"Twenty-nine communities — there could be a lot of sickness from unsafe drinking water and unsafe usage of water," he said.

The key issue is a lack of money, said Stanley.

"The shortfalls of the resources that have been allocated for first nations it's very dismal," he said. Quite bluntly, we can say that the status quo doesn't work for us, we need to get our message across to the feds."

The federal government says it's invested more than $2 billion since 2006 to improve water quality in aboriginal communities and will be regulating water supplies on First Nations for the first time.

But unless there's a new funding commitment, Alberta First Nations won't be able to meet the new guidelines, said Stanley.