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For immediate release
March 22, 2021
Treaty Five Territory, Thompson, MB – Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak (MKO) Inc. is issuing this statement to acknowledge World Water Day, which takes place on March 22 every year.
Grand Chief Garrison Settee states:
“Water is essential to life. First Nations people have water teachings embedded in our cultures that teach us to respect and care for the water. The importance of water has never been so apparent as over the last year, when public health measures to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 have included washing your hands thoroughly on a regular basis and regularly cleaning household surfaces. It is common knowledge that having access to clean water is essential to good hygiene practices.
Unfortunately, First Nations across Canada face barriers in mitigating the impact of COVID-19 when it comes to having access to clean water. First Nations have been dealing with deficient water systems for decades. Up to this point, there are still First Nations communities dealing with boil water advisories even though, the federal government had promised to lift all long-term boil water advisories in First Nations by March 2021.
As of March 9, 2021, 101 long-term boil water advisories have been lifted and 58 long-term advisories are still in effect, well short of the promised complete elimination of the long-term boil water advisories in Canada.
In a rich and developed country like Canada, it is unacceptable to still have long-term boil water advisories, some that have lasted for decades.
A national assessment of water systems in Canada by Neegan Burnside shows the majority of water systems in the 26 MKO communities are medium- to high-risk systems. The use of cisterns (holding tanks) in many MKO First Nations are high risk to the quality of water and the sewage tanks pose contamination risks to the environment, the home, and water.
MKO staff member Dr. Stewart Hill recently defended his PhD thesis, in which he found that an MKO First Nation was shown to have 64 per cent of houses on cisterns and 10 per cent with no running water. These homes with no running water must use barrels and containers for their water supply.
Studies show that piped treated water for houses is the best solution for providing quality drinking water. The use of cisterns is not meant to be a long-term solution for providing water and wastewater services to houses on reserve.
The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed the situation for disease spread in a First Nation community is worse with deficient water and wastewater systems when combined with overcrowded housing.
The operation and maintenance of water and wastewater infrastructure on reserve is not fully funded with funding levels of up to only 80 per cent, leading to a situation of chronic underfunding over decades.
As First Nations people, we continue to ask why all homes in our communities are unable to access clean drinking water in the year 2021. The solution lies in the empowerment, proper funding, and water governance structures for First Nations under self-government as opposed to a dependency system like the current regime. On World Water Day, MKO asserts that every house in MKO First Nations needs to be connected to treated, piped water.”