Feb. 26, 2021

First Nations lack clean drinking water and it's Ottawa's fault

Liberal government won't meet goal to lift all boil-water advisories for several years, audit finds

CBC News reports the federal government has not done enough to ensure people in First Nations communities have reliable access to safe drinking water, says the federal auditor general. In an audit report tabled in Parliament, Auditor General Karen Hogan said many First Nations will continue to live without access to clean water without long-term solutions to address deficiencies in their water systems. FULL REPORT


The problem is not drinking water but an utterly despicable failure to develop a coherent plan to address reconciliation with indigenous people. They have suffered years of neglect and inadequate efforts to address health, housing, fuel, groceries, supplies and water in a piecemeal fashion.

The solution has to start with a repeal of the Indian Act and provisions for indigenous people to own land and create local municipalities to oversee public infrastructure and land use.
We need some thinking outside the box. Some remote reserves are not viable. Before the creation of the Indian Act, this was not a problem. Indigenous bands moved to places where they could survive. It is not written in stone that they cannot relocate today to avoid the difficulties they face in reserves that all weather roads cannot reach.

We know that many remote reserves are not viable but remain stuck in a system failing 150 years ago. Only an idiot would promise to bring fresh drinking water to remote reserves where just supplying the necessary equipment is a huge challenge.

There is little point in providing water filtration plants in reserves that lack adequate housing, schools, medical clinics, recreational facilities, and face chronically high unemployment. That is treating one of many symptoms of unviable living conditions. Providing fresh water to people dying from despair, disease, and suicide is inhumane.

We need to negotiate with indigenous people from remote reserves and look for solutions that address all their problems. Anything less is unacceptable. The problem is not drinking water; it is failed reconciliation.

We need to disband Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada and Indigenous Services Canada reformed in 2017 as they are not dealing with reconciliation. As long as the entrenched bureaucracy exists, nothing will change. These departments have no interest in reconciliation as that is the end of their careers. Even Trudeau can figure that out.

The COVID crisis has highlighted the vulnerability of reserve residents plagued with sub-standard living conditions. In a nation as wealthy as Canada, we can set minimum standards for living conditions in any hamlet or village. In the case of indigenous reserves, we need to find solutions that address all substandard issues. Pretending that remoteness is a barrier is ridiculous. We are not short of real estate. Solutions are possible if we honestly seek them.