A coalition of organizations is monitoring progress on resolving First Nations drinking water advisories in Ontario, including the David Suzuki Foundation, Amnesty International, the Council of Canadians and Human Rights Watch.
Drinking water advisories are often attributed to technical factors like equipment malfunction, lack of disinfection and unacceptable microbiological quality, but past research by our organizations and current conversations with First Nations members and water technicians reveal the root causes behind the lack of progress in resolving advisories.
We are calling on the government to work with First Nations to make necessary changes to the way it addresses the lack of safe drinking water in First Nations communities. — Rachel Plotkin
After years of pressure from Indigenous and social justice organizations, the federal government has committed to ending all long‐term drinking water advisories by 2020. We aim to use the federal government’s promise to ensure political leaders take action.
What are we recommending
- Address a highly complex and cumbersome federal process
Work with First Nations to streamline and simplify the process for capital investments in water infrastructure by identifying roadblocks and reducing bureaucracy.
- Review the lack of a regulatory framework to govern drinking water for First Nations
Work with First Nations to identify an appropriate regulatory framework.Collaborate with First Nations to develop and implement source-water protection and restoration plans.
As of fall 2016, Canada had 156 drinking water advisories affecting 110 First Nations communities, many of which are recurring or ongoing.
At 81 advisories, Ontario claims the highest number in the country. Some advisories have been in place for more than 20 years.
The 2016 federal budget included $1.8 billion to help resolve the crisis by 2020 in addition to funding it has already invested in First Nations water infrastructure, operations and management.
The Grassy Narrows story
Water is sacred to Indigenous people. Yet rampant resource development and inadequate funding for water-treatment plants have led to decades of water issues in Indigenous communities throughout Canada.
Poisoned watersheds affect many First Nations. The most egregious example is Grassy Narrows, a First Nation where people have suffered from mercury poisoning and a collapse of livelihoods since the provincial government allowed a pulp and paper company to dump 10 tonnes of mercury into its watershed in the late 1960s. In December 2016, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne committed to remediate Grassy Narrows’ toxic watershed. The government must uphold this promise. The David Suzuki Foundation is committed to ensuring this cleanup happens.
In accordance with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People and the Truth and Reconciliation Report calls to action, all people in Canada are obligated to protect Indigenous people’s right to water, and, where possible, prevent third parties, such as large development companies, from contaminating waterways.
Where contamination has already occurred, remediation efforts must ensue.