Most Canadians have never experienced anything other than fresh, clean drinking water at the turn of a tap. But surprisingly, many of Canada’s First Nations communities are still without what the United Nations considers a basic human right: access to clean drinking water.
In fact, according to a report by the Council of Canadians, as of January 2015, there were 169 drinking water advisories (DWA) in 126 First Nations communities across Canada. That represents 20 per cent of all First Nations communities in Canada.
If you break that down by province, Ontario had the highest number of DWAs for Indigenous communities at 79, followed by B.C. with 35, Saskatchewan with 24, Alberta with 17, the Atlantic with seven, Manitoba with five and Quebec with two.
“In 2007, the number of drinking water advisories was around 92-95. Today, it’s running around 120 and it’s been a steady climb,” says Irving LeBlanc, a special advisor on infrastructure for the Assembly of First Nations.
“I think the biggest, really travesty, is a lot of these have been there for over maybe 20 years,” he says. “And there’s no reason, absolutely no reason why those could not be addressed.”
One community in particular, Shoal Lake #40 First Nation, has been on a boil water advisory (BWA) for 18 years. The community of about 250 people has no road access, and has been bringing in bottled water since 1997.
“I think everybody in Canada should have clean water to drink,” says Shoal Lake #40’s Chief Irwin Redsky. “Every community should have it. It doesn’t matter how small.”
Shoal Lake #40 is about 200km East of Winnipeg – a city that, earlier this year, was put under a boil water advisory itself. But that BWA was lifted only three days later – something Irving says is quite the contrast with First Nations communities.
“Dealing with First Nation drinking water advisories just seems to take a long, long time,” he says.
“Municipalities have the resources to deal with [it]. In a [First Nation] community…there’s not going to be an immediate reaction to it. It takes a while to muster the resources, find the money and equipment to deal with it. So there’s a totally different environment or attitude towards drinking water advisories on First Nations.”
Shoal Lake #40 has had to deal with the consequences of that attitude for 18 years.
“A lot of people shake their heads when they come into this community,” says Chief Redsky. “They don’t believe its 2015 here. When you come here it’s like going back in time. It’s not right.”
16×9’s “As Long as the Waters Flow” airs Saturday, November 7th at 7pm.
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