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.
Discrimination against First Nations people is a "legal fact" in Canada when it comes to safe drinking water, says a new report by Human Rights Watch.
The international, independent human rights organization released its report in Toronto on Tuesday calling for "urgent steps" by the federal and provincial government to resolve more than 100 boil-water advisories in First Nations across Canada.