Chiefs in Atlantic Canada are expressing frustration and concern over Canada’s lack of action to address hazardous water quality in Potlotek First Nation.

It’s been one year since residents of the Cape Breton Indigenous community raised serious concerns about the quality of their drinking water, and this week, the community has been advised by Health Canada not to drink the water, bathe in it, nor to wash clothes in it. To date, no clear action plan has been committed and no funding confirmed to address these repeated water issues.

“Our community has been working with Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) over the past decade to address the serious issues, to no avail,” said Chief Wilbert Marshall of Potlotek. “In spite of promises for action, here we are a decade later and no action. What must happen to address this water crisis here in our community?”

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“All First Nations in Canada must continue to call for real actions to address the water situation in all our communities,” said Chief Bob Gloade, co-chair of Atlantic Policy Congress of First Nations Chiefs (APC).

“Prime Minister Trudeau committed to address this situation and still, we see no action in communities which makes this a real tragedy,” said APC co-chair Chief Candice Paul. “I thought we were working to solve this problem, but the reality is, nothing is happening and our concerns for the members of this community, and many other communities, are growing.”

Water quality is consistently at the top of the Atlantic Chiefs priorities each year. Chiefs continue to work toward a collaborative strategy and solution. APC has been working for over five years on The First Nations Clean Water Initiative. This initiative, developed with Dalhousie University’s leading researchers and experts, would see an Atlantic First Nations Water Authority (AFNWA) govern, own, construct, operate, and supply clean and sustainable water and wastewater services, created by and for Indigenous communities. Chiefs and communities have committed to the project.

APC, in partnership with; Halifax Water, Accelerator Inc., Dalhousie University and Ulnooweg Development Inc. are currently working toward an assessment of the feasibility of the Atlantic First Nations Water Authority.

The current phase of the of work has the APC completing:

  • Establishment of a corporate structure for the AFNWA;
  • Conducting a financial analysis; and
  • Completing a life-cycle analysis on current water/wastewater assets.

“We have provided multiple briefings in recent years to several members of the Federal government, both elected and non-elected, and we are committed to working towards a solution, but to date, there is no assurance from government,” said John Paul, executive director, APC. “Perhaps safe water continues to be not a priority for the government of Canada and Prime Minister Trudeau.”

More information about the work of the AFNWA is available here.

Cover photo Courtesy of Potlotek First Nation.

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