The Neskantaga First Nation of Ontario has had a boil water advisory going since 1995. They have not been able to drink the water from their taps or bath in it without getting rashes for over 20 years.
In the fall of 2016 there were 156 drinking water advisories in effect in first nation communities…normally we see an average of 100 advisories. In the last decade 2/3 of all the native communities had experienced a water advisory of some sort.
Advisories can come in different ways. There can be boil water, meaning boil it before you use it. Do not consume, meaning don’t drink it. Do not use is also a possibility. Water services on reserves is a federal government responsibility and in the governments own words is severely underfunded.
During the 2015 election the Liberals promised to end all the long term water advisory situations in 5 yrs. More money has been earmarked which is fine , but the system has to be addressed as well.
The David Suzuki Foundation and the Council of Canadians have published a report that looked at rating the governments progress in solving the nine worst water advisory situations in Ontario. In terms of the promise of solving these issues in the five year timeline, the glass is half full. It looks like three situations will be successfully managed, 3 are being worked on with some success , but there are doubts of meeting the deadline…and the last three are posing a greater problem and most likely will not meet the time line.
In a country where so many of us take for granted the abundance clean water it is unacceptable that so many First Nation communities face real water issues. Clean water and sanitation is a human right recognized by the United Nations.
The report card concludes that the system for addressing unsafe drinking water is overly cumbersome and must be streamlined. First Nations must also have more direct involvement and say to address community specific drinking water issues, and the government must increase transparency with respect to progress and budget allocations.
The Safe Water Project is a great example of a federally funded program that is managed at the local level, training and certification of local water operators, with remote water quality monitoring technology.
Clean drinking water is not just and indigenous issue, but a human right and should concern us all.