Proposed Act does not address critical lack of infrastructure
Nishnawbe Aski Nation (NAN) Deputy Grand Chief Les Louttit has issued an official statement of opposition against the federal government and its introduction of The Safe Drinking Water for First Nations Act. Calling the proposed legislation “an attempt by the federal government to unload its responsibility for water quality to First Nations”, the Deputy Grand Chief does support the development of water quality standards but insists that those standards be developed in consultation with First Nations and be fully funded by the provincial and federal governments.
“We are opposed to this legislation because it will impose water quality standards on impoverished communities that do not have the infrastructure and resources to meet them,” said Louttit. “Regulating drinking water does nothing to address the fact that many of our communities do not have access to an adequate supply of safe drinking water in the first place. This is the key issue, and one this legislation failed to address.”
Introduced in Senate on February 29th, a similar version of The Safe Drinking Water for First Nations Act was originally introduced in 2010 as Bill S-11 but was pushed aside by the Government of Canada when legislature broke for the last federal election in May of 2011. Unsupported by many First Nations because it did not provide for First Nation control over implementation or funding to build infrastructure and train people to keep water potable, the original Bill was amended by the Government of Canada to include a number of new provisions however is still drawing contempt from many organizations governing Canadian First Nations.
NAN is one such organization and according to Deputy Grand Chief Louttit, while Nishnawbe Aski Nation does recognize a need for legislation to provide for safe and healthy drinking water and wastewater systems, The Safe Drinking Water for First Nations Act is critically flawed. Presenting a cursory overview of water and wastewater systems in NAN First Nations to the Senate Standing Committee on Aboriginal Peoples in March of 2011, the political organization is quite clear on the issues faced by its communities and would like to see legislation enacted that would address a number of key shortfalls including the fact that:
• Nearly all 49 NAN communities have been subject to a boil water advisory in the past five year;
• Nearly every community’s water plant system is in need of replacement or repairs; and
• Nearly all communities face a lack of funding for the hiring and training of qualified staff and the safe operation of water systems.
Calling attention to the fact that the proposed legislation does not include any mention of increased provincial or federal dollars to enact any new water or wastewater regulations, Louttit is also concerned that absent of resources, First Nations communities will have difficulty constructing new water infrastructure, maintaining and repairing existing facilities, or training qualified water plant operators.
“For years we have warned of a looming threat to the health and safety of NAN First Nations from drinking water facilities management systems within our communities,” detailed Louttit. “Water is a basic human right, and continued failure by the federal government to address the drinking water and wastewater needs of NAN First Nations will lead to more boil water advisories, evacuations, and serious health risks to our communities.”
Nishnawbe Aski Nation is a political territorial organization representing 49 First Nations communities in James Bay Treaty No. 9 and Ontario portions of Treaty No. 5—an area covering two thirds of the province of Ontario.