A First Nations coalition will be launching a campaign to recognize the human right to safe drinking water in First Nations communities. This campaign is in response to inaction by successive federal governments, including the Trudeau government, according to the coalition.
“Unsafe drinking water is a growing problem on First Nations right across Canada,” said Chief Byron Louis of the Okanagan Indian Band. “Aging and inadequate infrastructure coupled with an unwillingness by the federal government to spend the infrastructure dollars needed to fix the problem has left more and more communities with unsafe drinking water.”
“Canada supported a U.N. resolution in 2010 recognizing the right to safe and clean drinking water as a human right that is essential to the full enjoyment of life and all human rights,” Chief Louis added. “But all this posturing at the U.N. has not translated into action at home.”
Ermineskin Cree Nation, Sucker Creek First Nation, and two other Alberta First Nations commenced an action in federal court in 2014 seeking confirmation of the right to safe drinking water. That action was put on hold as the parties entered negotiations.
After more delays by the federal government, the Alberta First Nations decided to lift the stay and proceed with the litigation. The Okanagan Indian Band, near Vernon in B.C., commenced a similar legal action on August 15, 2019. The First Nations recently met to coordinate the legal actions they will be taking and related efforts.
“We decided to reach out to the Alberta First Nations (suing Canada) because it’s time for First Nations to stand together on this fundamental issue,” said Chief Louis. “We should live in a country where the water is safe coming out of the tap, whether you are in an Indigenous community or the city or town next door.”
“The federal government has been able to get away with things because each First Nation has been trying to address this alone,” added Chief Craig Makinaw of the Ermineskin Cree Nation. “We intend to build a legal and political movement of First Nations and other Canadians to support confirmation of the human right to safe drinking water of First Nations and, of course all Canadians. Coordination on our lawsuits is only a first step.”
Ermineskin Cree Nation will be presenting at the Assembly of First Nations Water Symposium in late November to encourage other First Nations across Canada to push for the recognition of First Nations’ human right to safe drinking water.