The Right to Water
Canada: The Right to Water in First Nations Communities
Photo: Arriving at the Shoal Lake #40 reserve by ferry. The lake provides all the drinking water for the city of Winnipeg but the people of Shoal Lake #40 have been under a boil water advisory for 17 years because the federal government has failed to replace the community's inadequate water treatment system.
An estimated 20,000 First Nations people living on reserves across Canada have no access to running water or sewage. In addition, at any one time 110 to 130 First Nations are under boil water advisories because their municipal water is not safe to drink.
In 2006, an expert panel appointed by the federal government concluded that drinking water problems in First Nations communities were primarily the result of federal underfunding.
The panel urged the federal government to provide the resources necessary "to ensure that the quality of First Nations water and wastewater is at least as good as that in similar communities and that systems are properly run and maintained."
The panel also criticized the government's failure to prioritize the communities in greatest need. Many of the First Nations communities with little or no running water and sewage are not even named as high priorities in the government's current work plan.
Instead of acting on the panel's concerns, the federal government has adopted new legislation that creates a framework for regulating First Nations water without providing any new resources to ensure that the needs of these communities are actually met.
The First Nations water act is also of concern because of the extraordinary, unilateral powers that it claims for the federal government. Under the Act, the federal cabinet can override First Nations' own laws and regulations and even deliberately violate existing self-government agreements and Constitutionally-entrenched Treaty rights without the affected peoples having any say.