I would like to thank the Global Landscapes Forum and the United Nations General Assembly for having me here today to share my concerns and share why my people have a sacred connection to the water and the lands. I would like to start by sharing that the work I do is in honour of my late Great Auntie Biidaasige-ba. If it weren’t for her lifetime commitment and sacrifices to create the awareness and the sacredness of water, I would not be standing here today. She inspired me to do this work as she was an Elder when she began. I thought about who would keep doing her work one day; I just didn’t expect that day to come as soon as it did. She created the Mother Earth Water Walks. She walked around all the Great Lakes, more than once. She did this because the Elders began to see changes in the lands, medicines, animals and waters.
Over a thousand people poured into the streets of downtown Winnipeg Friday to bring attention to the dozens of First Nations across Canada currently under boil water advisories. Roughly 1,100 people, including more than 800 students from the Seven Oaks School Division, took part, organizers estimate. Carrying signs, the demonstrators walked from city hall down Main Street to Portage Avenue, and then up Memorial Boulevard, before ending at the Manitoba Legislative Building.
Water is something most Canadians take for granted. We have so much of it, it's no wonder. Per capita, our country has the world's third-largest freshwater reserves, but yet in many Indigenous communities, water can be difficult to access, at-risk because of unreliable treatment systems, or contaminated. That's the case in Delaware First Nation, an Indigenous community of about 500 people an hour southwest of London, Ont., a place where fishing was everything 60 years ago.
While the Canadian government says it's on track with its 2016 promise to bring safe water to First Nations communities within five years, some are still calling it an ambitious plan.
"First Nations communities are not homogenous. And the water source is not a homogenous source either, for these communities," said Lalita Bhardawaj, a toxicologist and public health professor at the University of Saskatchewan.
Behind every failed First Nations water plant is an unfortunate story. Assigning blame can be challenging: Although Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) pays for most on-reserve infrastructure and sets most of the rules governing design and construction, many other parties are involved, including project managers, engineering and construction firms and First Nations chiefs and councillors.
Dozens of boil water advisories have been issued in Alberta First Nations communities, one after E. coli was detected at a daycare, others after mice were found in water tanks.
In all, Health Canada has issued 56 drinking water advisories affecting First Nations communities in Alberta since April 2015 — more than the 52 orders Alberta Health Services made for the rest of the province over the same time period.