The responsibility of water and wastewater services for 15 First Nations communities in Atlantic Canada will be transferred from Indigenous Services Canada (ISC) to the Atlantic First Nations Water Authority (AFNWA).

The path was created by a new framework agreement, the first of its kind for a First Nations-led water authority in Canada, according to an announcement made by Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller and the AFNWA.

“With this framework agreement, Canada and the Atlantic First Nations Water Authority are taking an important step to renew the relationship with Indigenous peoples by putting control of essential services delivery rightly into the hands of First Nations,” said Minister Marc Miller.

“This First Nations-led initiative directly supports the advancement of self-determination for communities while strengthening control and management of water and wastewater infrastructure on reserves,” added Minister Miller.

The framework agreement outlines the negotiation process between ISC and the AFNWA. The framework agreement also identifies the roles and responsibilities for all parties to transfer responsibility over the control and management of water and wastewater services.

As a part of the framework agreement, ISC and the AFNWA will develop a long-term funding arrangement that can facilitate access to capital by the utility.

This agreement advances a new First Nations-led service delivery model and represents a step towards self-determination and greater control for First Nations over service delivery in their communities.

“We are excited by the progress the AFNWA has made and the significance this agreement represents,” said Chief Wilbert Marshall of Potlotek First Nation. Chief Marshall is also the chair of the Atlantic First Nations Water Authority.

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“We are well positioned for success with a utility established by First Nations, for First Nations,” added Chief Marshall. “There is still much work to do, but we look forward to continuing the relationship with the Government of Canada to achieve our long-term goals.”

The framework agreement represents a key milestone for this innovative initiative as the AFNWA continues to work towards full autonomous operations by Spring 2022.

Once the transfer is complete, the AFNWA will assume responsibility and liability for water and wastewater services to over 4,500 households and businesses on reserves. This represents approximately 60 per cent of First Nations that live on reserves in Atlantic Canada. The AFNWA will support communities to effectively upgrade, manage, and maintain their water and wastewater services.

“This is a unique opportunity for First Nations to take control of a service critical to the social, economic, and environmental well-being of their communities,” said Carl Yates, interim chief executive officer of the AFNWA. “The AFNWA will not be going where the path may lead but instead will be blazing a trail for others to follow.”

The AFNWA is a First Nations-controlled central water authority. It was formally established in 2018, after a multi-year process which included community engagements that informed the design of its ‘hub and spoke’ delivery model. The authority will continue to engage with First Nations communities and organizations so that their experience, expertise and best practices are integrated into their service delivery model.

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