Right to Water in Canada: How the Constitution Fails First Nations Communities

unacto1The following article is written by Denea Bascombe, one of our new UNAC-Vancouver website writers, and originally appeared on observatorymedia.org.

The poor water conditions in some of the First Nations communities in Canada is not a new item on the federal government’s agenda, yet 2015 saw a renewed commitment to solving the lack of access to clean and safe water. The social and political conditions have acted as a catalyst to the Government of Canada’s pledge to eliminate drinking water advisories in all First Nations communities within five years. This likely due to the recently-elected Liberal government, which has committed to more effective reconciliation with First Nations, and the widespread media coverage and outrage surrounding such deprivations, which has brought attention to this issue as a possible human rights violation.

An October 2015 CBC News Report titled Bad Water: Third-World Conditions on First Nations in Canada likened the conditions of Canada’s rural and marginalized communities to those of developing nations. The article explains the prevalence of this issue in its opening paragraph, highlighting “Two-thirds of all First Nation communities in Canada have been under at least one drinking water advisory at some time in the last decade. The numbers show that 400 out of 618 First Nations in the country had some kind of water problem between 2004 and 2014”. Yet another October 2015 CBC News Report highlights Trudeau’s campaign promise “[pledging] billions for infrastructure projects, including investments in water facilities, as well as a commitment to First nations education of $750 million per year over the next four years”. One particular community, the Neskantaga First Nation, appealed prior to the general federal election for the next prime minister to personally intervene, as their community has maintained a boil-water advisory for more than 20 years. Now, in spring 2016, Trudeau is being called on both by the Fourth Estate, and through a direct appeal from the Neskantaga First Nation, to fulfill his campaign promises.

The government’s promise will mean immediate investments in infrastructure projects, capacity-building programs, and policy and regulatory development to address the many gaps that currently exist. However, in 2012, the International Indigenous Policy Journal, which reviews the Government of Canada’s role in indigenous access to water, as reserve land is under federal jurisdiction, completed a work titled Water and Indigenous Peoples: Canada’s Paradox. Its conclusion — that federal efforts to increase indigenous access to water on reserves had been unsatisfactory prior to 2012 … [To Continue reading, see http://www.observatorymedia.org/right-water-canada/]

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