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Voices ᐋ ᐄᔮᔨᐧᒫᓂᐧᐃᒡ

Still looking for a drink

BY Will Nicholls May 22, 2021

Covid-19 has changed many of the things we take for granted. But it hasn’t changed the federal government’s lack of urgency to provide safe water for far too many First Nations communities in Canada. Justin Trudeau’s Liberals pledged, hands on hearts, that this basic necessity could be taken for granted in every community by the end of March this year. 

Well, if there’s one thing that promise proved, it’s that Prime Minister Trudeau talks a good game but does not actually care about Indigenous people. Two months after that solemn promise was supposed to have been fulfilled, clean water is still something that dozens and dozens of non-white communities still cannot take for granted.

Indigenous Services Canada claims that 106 long-term water advisories have been lifted since 2015 (leaving even by their count 52 that are still unable to use their own water, even if it has been boiled). But an Auditor General’s report demonstrates that even this claim is no more reliable than the brown, contaminated liquid flowing out of the tap. 

The Auditor General of Canada, Karen Hogan, revealed that many of the cancelled water advisories came as a result of temporary measures rather than permanent solutions. Hogan also noted that the Liberals failed to ensure sufficient resources were committed even before the coronavirus pandemic became Trudeau’s convenient excuse.

Now, the Trudeau government is promising that clean water will be provided… up to five years from now. In other words, probably after two federal elections, by which time our Liberal boy wonder will no doubt be enjoying the very rich perks provided by the corporations who reward dutiful ex-prime ministers after their political career ends. 

As the Auditor General’s report notes, however, past action plans haven’t measured up to any sort of real solution. 

“We found that the department’s risk ratings for water infrastructure remained unchanged,” reads Hogan’s report to Parliament. “In the 2014-15 fiscal year, the department’s annual assessment revealed that 304 (43%) of 699 assessed water systems were either high or medium risk. Five years later, in the 2019-20 fiscal year, the same percentage of systems (306 of 718) was still rated as high or medium risk. According to the department, high- and medium-risk systems can have major deficiencies that need to be addressed. If these deficiencies are not addressed, First Nations communities may not have reliable access to safe drinking water.”

In other words, the only thing we can take for granted from Justin Trudeau is that his promises are worth as much as the drinking water he has provided First Nations communities.

Some people are realizing that the emperor is lacking proper clothing – any clothing, in fact. They don’t believe Trudeau’s new promise will change a thing. Ontario MPP Sol Mamakwa (Kiiwetinoong) feels the political will to address the problem is not there. As he told Global News, “It’s an action plan to further oppress [and] colonize First Nations people in Canada. There are young people in Ontario, in Canada, in 2021, who have never known what it is like to be able to drink from the tap.”

Frustrated at the lack of actual action, several First Nations communities have now launched a class-action lawsuit. The legal challenge demands compensation for individuals and communities that have suffered from a lack of reliable access to clean water and a declaration that Canada has an ongoing responsibility to work with First Nations to provide access to clean water. This includes requiring Canada to construct and fund appropriate water systems for First Nations communities, something that the federal government has been obligated to do since it established the Indian Act almost 150 years ago. (Hey, no rush guys!)

Many of these problems stem from the fact that Indigenous communities are barred from funding and managing their own water systems under that law. Even when provinces want to help, jurisdictional issues prevent them from acting. As Human Rights Watch water researcher Amanda Klaing rightly said, “If you are anywhere else in Canada and you turn on the tap, then you are protected by safe drinking water regulations. If you live on a reserve, no such regulations exist. There are no safe drinking water regulations.”

It’s a national shame that this problem is, seemingly, so difficult to resolve. When Canadian leaders take for granted that failing in their duty to provide clean water will have no political consequence, it’s pretty clear that even the “progressive” government of Justin Trudeau prefers to keep Indigenous people in Third World conditions. After all, we’d be able to take for granted the right to drink water out of the tap, just as people everywhere else in Canada do, if Trudeau had committed a fraction of the money he is spending to subsidize the oil industry on meeting his clean-water promise. 

But that’s one thing we can now take for granted: Justin Trudeau is a fraud.

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Will Nicholls is a Cree from Mistissini. He started his career off in radio and is still one of the youngest radio DJ’s in Canadian history, having a regular show on CFS Moosonee at the age of 12. Will was one of the founding members of the Nation, and has been its only Editor-in-Chief.