Among our Potawatomi people, women are the Keepers of Water. We carry the sacred water to ceremonies and act on its behalf. “Women have a natural bond with water, because we are both life bearers,” my sister said. “We carry our babies in internal ponds and they come forth into the world on a wave of water. It is our responsibility to safeguard the water for all our relations.” ― Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants
Water is the fountain of all life, the blood of our Earth Mother, a requirement for every living being. Yet, according to Watertoday.ca our province has 234 active boil water advisories, second only to British Columbia. Even by the conservative numbers put forward by Health Canada, there were 131 Drinking Water Advisories as of December 31, 2015 in 87 First Nations communities across Canada (excluding British Columbia). That which should sustain us is far too often poisoned itself.
A large part of the ongoing water security concerns for First Nations communities has been the jurisdictional wrangling that happens between provincial and federal levels of government. While First Nations communities fall under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, they are often downstream and become recipients of contaminants from bordering agricultural and industrial operations; these are governed by the provinces and therefore decisions made by regional powers have profound impacts on these communities.
The new Liberal government has voiced commitments to the safe drinking water for First Nations communities, but will the support offered be enough? This is particularly of concern after years of inadequate Federal funding towards communities’ urgent water needs.
Just as the province is dabbling with washing its hands of real commitment by introducing Public-Private Partnerships (P3s), so to are other levels of government. Private water companies are aggressively pursuing new “markets” in First Nations communities. Meanwhile, our federal government has seen lucrative privatization as an easy solution to fix the water crises in communities under their jurisdiction.
It should not matter where one lives on Turtle Island; with approximately 20% of the world’s fresh water supply and our ever-growing technological advances in Canada, there is no excuse for anyone to question the safety of the water pouring from their taps.
Racism often leads to inequalities in the distribution of resources. The inadequacy of ensuring a basic need, particularly amongst First Nations communities, serves as an example of structural racism. The inequality First Nations communities face maintains disadvantaged conditions and restricts a fundamental part of our human existence – water.
In recognition of World Water Day on March 22 and the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination on March 21, the SEIU-West Aboriginal Committee encourages you to recognize and fight against the structural racism that results from these persistently-present water advisories in First Nations communities.
Water security is crucial to each and every one of us; please contact us if you are interested in helping deepen awareness about the right of safe water in all of our communities.