Indigenous people need control of their own water authorities, says SCO grand chief

Indigenous leaders in Manitoba are calling on the federal government to do more to respect the basic human rights of Indigenous people living in Canada after the group Human Rights Watch released their 2022 report on issues affecting human rights and Indigenous people.

Human Rights Watch is an international non-governmental organization headquartered in New York City that conducts research and advocacy on human rights.

The report states that while Canada enjoys a “global reputation as a defender of human rights,” the government also faces longstanding challenges relating to the rights of Indigenous peoples, including violations of the right to safe drinking water and adequate wastewater services.

“The key focus of this report is about what global leaders need to do as it pertains to respecting human rights and creating a better world,” Southern Chiefs Organization (SCO) Grand Chief Jerry Daniels said in a Wednesday media release reacting to the report.

SCO currently represents 34 First Nations communities in southern Manitoba.

“When it comes to human rights for the First Peoples of Canada, our federal Treaty partners have work to do, especially when it comes to infrastructure and water,” Daniels said.

“Many of our communities are struggling right now with poor drinking and wastewater infrastructure that needs to be repaired, upgraded, and even replaced. The current federal process to upgrade or replace this infrastructure is combative and is failing our peoples.”

In the release, Daniels said that current methods of procuring new water and wastewater treatment plants, water delivery infrastructure, and formulas used by the federal government to supply operation and maintenance dollars are “outdated, flawed, and ripe for corruption and monopolization by companies and consultants who rely on the current process for work.”

“The process also assigns all water and wastewater risk to communities and the liability for system failures falls directly on chief and council,” Daniels added.

“This approach has led to systemic failures of drinking water systems for our peoples.”

Daniels said he and other First Nations leaders are now asking for more control over their own drinking water and wastewater services.

“The bottom line is we need a First Nations-owned and operated water authority to deliver drinking and wastewater services to all SCO member First Nations,” Daniels said.

“While we are eager to move forward with developing this water utility, we await funding to make this work possible. I encourage Canada to stand with us and support the journey to developing this water authority.”

The Winnipeg Sun reached out to Indigenous Services Canada for comment, but did not receive a response before Wednesday’s press deadline.

— Dave Baxter is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the Winnipeg Sun. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.

Dave Baxter, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Winnipeg Sun