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23rd October 2019
...continued from Part 1

When a reserve’s drinking water is not healthy, what can be the wider effects?

“The erosion of water resources has a negative impact on the wellbeing of communities and contributes to the current inequity in the health status of Indigenous Canadians,” according to Northern and Indigenous Health and Healthcare, published last year.

Impacts include “ongoing stress and mental illness; economic challenges such as having to purchase bottled water, missing work, and replace filters in treatment plants more often than typically scheduled; and undesired cultural and spiritual shifts like losing the ability to have water ceremonies or continue traditional teachings.”

What threat does the climate crisis pose to water on First Nations reserves?

As drought and lowered water tables become more common in some areas, “water treatment systems will need to be able to process higher loads of nitrates and other pollutants (in both ground and surface waters) that result from lower water levels accompanied by higher levels of leaching and sediment erosion,” according to an Assembly of First Nations study.

The federal government created The First Nations Adapt Program, which “provides funding to First Nation communities located below the 60th parallel to assess and respond to climate change impacts on community infrastructure and emergency management.” The program prioritizes First Nations communities at most risk of being impacted by human-induced changes to the climate.

What can young Indigenous people do to make things better?

They can use their voices to continue advocating for the right to safe drinking water. When 15-year-old Autumn Peltier from Wiikwemkoong First Nation addressed the UN about the water crisis, she inspired many others to become educated about the issue and take action, too.

Indigenous youth can pursue education and training to be able to diagnose, design, build and advocate for better water systems on reserves.

What can non-Indigenous allies do to help?

Begin by asking, “How would I feel if I couldn’t access clean drinking water in my community?” Non-Indigenous allies can work in partnership with local First Nations to address a water concern by holding government accountable to honour its responsibility. Write to MPs and spread awareness via social media. Advocate against racist, defeatist and cynical positions that stand in the way of change.

Work, too, with Indigenous nations in fighting threats to local water supplies from contamination. Here’s an excellent primer on how to be an ally in achieving environmental justice.

What would it really take to fix the problem once and for all?

Solutions that have been proposed include creating a transboundary authority to manage, measure and research water, and updating the Canada Water Act with Indigenous governments to ensure that it is consistent with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

But to really fix the problem would require honouring treaties and respecting Indigenous title to land and water, while correcting historic root causes of the water crisis. As Pam Palmater writes, “Returning lands and resources to First Nations would go a long way to ensuring that First Nations have sustainable governments — and clean water.”

Canada needs to get out of the “business of governing first Nations,” Palmater further argues. “There is no reason why Canada, the provinces and First Nations cannot lead an emergency plan to have this done within 18 to 24 months.” [Tyee]