Jul 15, 2011

Canada's First Nations Call for Action After Drinking Water Quality Assessment

Report revealed deteriorating water quality affects many communities

Following the release of the National Assessment of First Nation Water and Water Systems report, Assembly of First Nations (AFN) National Chief Shawn A-in-chut Atleo repeated his call for the Canadian federal government to work urgently with First Nations on a concrete action plan that will deliver safe drinking water and improved wastewater systems to First Nation citizens.

"The report released today is shocking in that it reveals the quality of drinking water in First Nation communities is even worse than anticipated," Atleo said. "More than half the water systems our people are using are risky systems. While First Nations have been calling attention to this matter for years, today's report should spark swift and urgent action to ensure the health and safety of our people. Other Canadians would not tolerate this situation in their communities and we must not tolerate it in First Nation communities."

The study was announced in 2009 but the report was released this week. The figures show that the number of high- and moderate-risk drinking water systems are higher than previously reported by Aboriginal and Northern Affairs Canada. The recent auditor general's report stated that the safe drinking water problem has actually become worse in First Nation communities over her 10-year term. She called for Canada to work with First Nations to address this in a timely manner.

The report indicates that 39% of the drinking water systems in First Nation communities are considered "high risk" and 34% are "moderate risk," which means 71% of the systems pose risk to First Nation citizens.

"We want to work with the federal government in partnership, based on standards brought forward in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, to ensure that we address this as a priority issue,” Atleo said. “We have made healthy and safer communities one of our top priorities. We will need to move in a timely manner. Access to water and sanitation is a basic human right. First Nations must be fully engaged in a way that recognizes our rights and responsibilities to ensure the safety of our people."