Access to safe water and proper sanitation is a human right. Most importantly it is our inherent right to the use and protection of our waters and lands. The protection of water and all living beings that depend on it is the sacred responsibility entrusted to us by the Creator. It is the responsibility of States to implement Article 25 of the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples which states “Indigenous peoples have the right to maintain and strengthen their distinctive spiritual relationship with their traditionally owned or otherwise occupied and used lands, territories, waters and coastal seas and other resources and to uphold their responsibilities to future generations in this regard.”
“Having access to acceptable water is a human right and something most Canadians take for granted. It’s time to end boil water advisories in this country once and for all. The federal government must work with First Nations in partnership as set out in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples”
The Safe Drinking Water for First Nations Act (SDWFNA) came into force November 1, 2013. The Act enables the Government to develop enforceable federal regulations to ensure access to safe, clean and reliable drinking water; the effective treatment of wastewater; and the protection of sources of drinking water on First Nation lands. Importantly, the Act also establishes that federal regulations developed in this regard may incorporate, by reference, provincial regulations governing drinking water and wastewater in First Nations communities.
TO BE CLEAR
The Act has come into force but the regulations still need to be developed. Ultimately this process will result in new regulations and standards. First Nations have raised the concern that they must be funded to be able to meet those regulations otherwise they could face punitive actions for failing to meet the regulations.
Regulations could be made on a province-by-province basis to reference existing provincial regulatory regimes, with adaptations to address the circumstances of First Nations living on those lands. However, AANDC officials have stated that the regulations once developed will not be applicable until the First Nation is ready. Once again, there are no guarantees and First Nations will need to monitor this very carefully. AFN and other organizations will continue to provide support and information as it becomes available.
First Nations insist on being involved in the development of these regulations, and the development process must include consultations with First Nations on the proposed regulations. Financial resources have not yet been identified to implement these regulations despite the fact that this is an absolute requirement to enable First Nations to effectively implement regulations for the benefit and safety of their members.
At the 2015 Annual General Assembly, then-Liberal Party Leader Justin Trudeau indicated that the SDWFNA was an example of “the government dictating terms rather than working in partnership to support First Nations governance”. Following the election, at the 2015 Special Chiefs Assembly, Prime Minister Trudeau committed to conducting a full review of legislation unilaterally imposed on Indigenous peoples by the previous government, and indicated “where measures are found to be in conflict with your rights, where they are inconsistent with the principles of good governance, or where they simply make no public policy sense, we will rescind them”.
At the 2015 Annual General Assembly, Resolution 76/2015 was passed calling for AFN to advocate for the repeal of the Act.
On May 29, 2017, Indigenous and Northern Affairs announced through their online SDWFNA webpage that engagement on review of the Act would commence. At this time, AFN has learned that engagement is proceeding through INAC regional offices, and a presentation and letter to Chiefs have been prepared by INAC as support documents.
Several regions have indicated concern with the short timelines for engagement and the lack of meaningful consultation with First Nations. It is expected that engagement will proceed until September 2017, at which point it is expected INAC will present revisions to the existing Act.
A National First Nations Water Strategy has been developed for discussion and direction consisting of actions, communications and research to advance critical work in the following areas
First Nations Right to Water
Watershed Management and Protection
The strategy has been created and ratified at the 2012 Special Chiefs Assembly and shared with various First Nation organizations, networks and Committees. This is an evergreen document. It has been revised to provide a clearer statement on the importance of ceremonies respecting water. With respect to the declaration and assertion of First Nation water rights, the protection of our watersheds and all living beings within it, a First Nations National Water Declaration is presented here for further input and discussion (AFN water declaration). The First Nations National Water Declaration was brought to the 2013 SCA for full endorsement.
Based on the data gathered on May 31, 2017 (excluding British Columbia, Saskatoon Tribal Council *), there were 133 Drinking Water Advisories in 87 First Nation communities south of the 60th parallel. As of May 31, 2017, there were 21 Drinking Water Advisories in effect in 19 First Nation communities in British Columbia.*
* As part of the British Columbia Tripartite Framework Agreement on First Nation Health Governance, on October 1st 2013, Health Canada transferred its role in the design, management and delivery of First Nations health programming in British Columbia to the new First Nations Health Authority (FNHA). Therefore, Health Canada no longer reports drinking water advisories in BC First Nations.
A Health Canada study from 1995-2007 found that a total of 162 advisories had been in effect for longer than one year. The most commonly cited reason (56% of advisories) being inadequate disinfection or disinfectant residuals.
The National Assessment of First Nations Water and Wastewater Systems was released on July 2011 providing a better picture of the current situation and the extent of the need for funding to address First Nations water and wastewater facilities.
Some of the findings of the assessment were
Water systems: There are a total of 807 water systems serving 560 First Nations.
72% of the homes (81,026) are piped
13.5% of the homes (15,451) are on truck delivery
13% of the homes (14,479) are serviced by individual wells
1.5% of the homes (1,880) are reported to have no water service
Waste water systems: There are a total of 532 waste water systems serving 418 First Nations.
54% of the homes (61,395) are piped
8% of the homes (8,861) are on truck haul
36% of the homes (40,803) are serviced by individual wastewater systems
2% of the homes (1,777) are reported to have no service
Risk analysis – water systems: Of the 807 water systems inspected:
314 (39%) are categorized as high overall risk
278 (34%) are categorized as medium overall risk
215 (27%) are categorized as low overall risk
Risk analysis – waste water systems: Of the 532 waste water systems inspected: