Canada: First Nations chief wants UN to investigate right to water violation

Geordie Rae from St.Theresa Point First Nation dumps a slop pail full of sewage in a dump outside his home. Winnipeg Free Press

Leaders of First Nations (indigenous peoples) from northern Manitoba want the United Nations to investigate the violations of rights imposed by the lack of water.

Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak Grand Chief David Harper told a Senate committee hearing Tuesday [15 February 2011] the lack of running water in more than 1,000 homes in northern Manitoba is a violation of the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous People.

Living in “Third World conditions”, families in the Island Lake region of Manitoba “have less water every day than people in refugee camps”.

Many people in the Island Lake region get by on 10 litres per day, usually lugged by family members in pails from local water pipes. Additional water comes in untreated from lakes and rivers that have tested positive for contaminants including E. coli.

The S-11 bill currently being considered by the aboriginal peoples committee of the Senate seeks to regulate water quality on reserves but will not ensure the delivery of clean water to the First Nations families in Manitoba, according to Harper.

The Council of Canadians called for the scrapping of Bill S-11 and the development of new legislation. The Council says that the ACT is flawed because First Nation communities were not consulted and there is a risk that water systems could be privatised.

On 14 January 2011, Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) Manitoba held a awareness raising event, Just Water, to highlight the poor living conditions in Manitoba’s Island Lake communities.

“Our concern is that the lack of clean water and adequate sewage (disposal) in many homes is a severe health hazard for the First Nations people in the Island Lake communities — people who are our neighbours, fellow citizens and, as descendants of the original inhabitants of Canada, with whom we share a treaty,” MCC executive director Peter Rempel said.

Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak (MKO), Manitoba’s northern chiefs association, is calling for CA$ 35 million (US$ 36 million) to install plumbing in the 1,000 homes around Island Lake and on other northern reserves.

The 2006 report of the Expert Panel on Safe Drinking Water for First Nations urged rapid action by Indian and Northern Affairs Canada to help communities without running water.

Four years later, Island Lake communities are still waiting. The logistical challenges of digging water and sewage lines are probably the reason for the delay, said Harry Swain, the report’s author.

Related web sites:

Source: Mia Rabson, First Nations to alert UN to water woes, Winnipeg Free Press, 16 Feb 2011 ; Alexandra Paul, Third World aid agency looks north, Winnipeg Free Press, 07 Jan 2011 ; Council of Canadians, 09 Mar 2011

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