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/]

Rosemary Brown Conference, Pt II

A Feminist Perspective on Human Rights: Cont’d

Last week’s post highlighted the key themes of the first portion of the Rosemary Brown Annual Memorial Conference, hosted in September at Simon Fraser University. The panel emphasized that women’s rights must also recognize the vulnerability of migrant workers, seniors, the environment and the inequalities which persist within Canada’s legal system. This post will consider the second panel of the conference, which discussed issues of elderly care, violence against women, social housing, and LGBTQ rights.

Elsie Dean
Women Elders In Act (WE*ACT Society) http://www.weact.vcn.bc.ca/

We need a paradigm shift,” Elsie tells the hundred or so attendees at the Rosemary Brown Annual Memorial Conference. Speaking from a time long before much of the audience, Elsie reminds us of the advances that the feminist agenda has made for us today. An important contribution that feminists can make in the modern world, she asserts, is to apply its perspective to the environmental movement. Elsie exhibits that feminist approaches ought not be limited to the classroom; they should become a regular part of our conversation.

Beyond women’s rights and the environment, Elsie’s passion and activism also concerns senior citizens: “We need the government to put training the elderly into the budget” she says. Like Marcy Cohen (one of the first panel speakers) Dean’s emphasis on elderly care demonstrates the lack of social support in this area. Assistance should include technical training; many elders face issues of communication and access to information due to a lack of technological understanding, which may impede their ability to keep in touch with loved ones and friends.

Hearing Elsie, a woman who has watched the waves of feminism unravel over the years, one cannot help but feel inspired by the potential for change that this women has lboth ived and demonstrated.

Cecily Nicholson
No One is Illegal https://noii-van.resist.ca/ and Social Housing Alliance of BC http://www.socialhousingbc.com/

Nicholson spoke from an anti-capital, anti-colonial framework. Her passion and knowledge were exemplified in her poetry-like dialect, covering several themes in a continuous stream of paradoxes and truths. She asks, how do we defend ourselves? The discourse of rights exists but who has the capacity to speak? “It is the most affected who need to speak,” she asserts, “but they are the marginalized…the intercity, is not a separate body…the imprisoned are all one community.”

Carol Martin
Victim Services Worker Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre http://dewc.ca/

We have to ask, the who, where, how and when, when we think about violence against women,” it is Aboriginal women, Martin emphasizes. In her moving speech, Martin exposed the truths of racism that continues to perpetuate itself within Canadian society. Specifically, she refers to the Public Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Aboriginal Women, in which she argued only thickened the label against indigenous women, “the code of silence became deeper.” Violence against women in Canada continues to disproportionally affect Aboriginal women, and Martin’s speech acutely demonstrated this reality.

Shawnee Gaffney
Queer Youth Activist https://www.policyalternatives.ca/offices/bc/power-of-youth

How can we get to the adults?” Shaunee asked the audience. A former homeless LGBTQ youth, Shaunee has both experienced the hardships of life on the street as a young adult, while also managing to utilize her experiences to help youth facing the same circumstances as she did not long ago. 40% of homeless youth are LGBTQ. Gaffney claims that this is largely due to in acceptance by family, the main support network for young people. Amongst the winners of the Power of Youth Leadership Award, celebrating “young progressive leaders in BC,” Shawnee has been recognized widely in Surrey and across Vancouver for her work speaking at high schools and organizing youth clubs to support LGBTQ youth.

As we have seen, a feminist perspective of human rights reveals the multifaceted and overlapping issues that women face, including: Equal representation under the law, access to social services, environmental protection, labour protection, and many more. The speakers at the Rosemary Brown Annual Memorial Conference not only shed light on these matters, but most importantly, proved the potential of those who continually fight for greater justice and equality.

Please e-mail us at unacvancouver@gmail.com if you are interested in donating to the Rosemary Brown Bursary Fund.