‘SHAMEFUL’: Manitoba First Nation waiting for Trudeau's promise of clean drinking water

·3 min read

The Tataskweyak Cree Nation (TCN) is voicing against the Government of Canada’s failure to deliver clean drinking water to First Nations.

NDP MP Niki Ashton and TCN’s Chief Doreen Spence appealed to the United Nations (UN) and the federal government to restore clean drinking water to the TCN.

“I want to stress how shameful it is that Canada, one of the wealthiest countries in the world, is not living up to its obligations to TCN and many First Nations,” said Ashton during a press conference Thursday.

TCN is subject to one of the 58 long-term drinking water advisories in 40 First Nation communities across the country.

During the 2015 federal election campaign, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised to eliminate all long-term water advisories on First Nations by March 2021.

Last October, Trudeau said that the Canadian government could not meet that deadline due to COVID-19.

“Canada’s failure to provide clean drinking water to the 58 First Nations is a national shame,” said Ashton.

“The government will make their promises, but they found numerous excuses to not deliver when it comes to their most important relationship with Indigenous peoples,”

On Dec. 2, Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller recognized that Canada must build a sustainable system ensuring that First Nation communities have access to safe drinking water now and in the future.

However, since his announcement that over $1.5 billion in additional investments will be provided to accelerate work to lift all long-term drinking water advisories on reserves, the TCN has yet to see anything happen in their community.

A class-action lawsuit against the federal government was filed in November 2019 and certified by the Manitoba Court of Queen’s Bench on behalf of TCN’s Chief Spence.

This week, a letter was sent to a UN’s Special Rapporteur on the Right of Indigenous Peoples, calling for immediate action to fix the water crisis for TCN.

“If the government won’t be moved by their failure or a class-action lawsuit, hopefully, being shamed on an international stage will force them to act,” said Ashton.

Since 2017, 2,300 TCN members continue to drink the water that has made them ill and even caused many children to develop intense skin rashes and sores from bathing in the untreated water.

“Dealing with this pandemic has only made our water crisis worse. We have 1,500 cases of bottled water brought in weekly, but that still isn’t enough,” said Spence.

“Both my daughters are affected by the water. They have rashes on their body, and it causes them to feel embarrassed about their skin. I have also been hearing that a lot of our members have stomach ailments.”

TCN has spent thousands to hire a hydrologist who confirmed that their water supply contained cyanobacteria which produce cyanotoxins, among the most powerful natural poisons known.

The water treatment plant at the TCN is not designed to remove all of the toxins in the water, and the current testing regime does not test for other harmful factors.

A spokesperson from Minister Miller’s office said Indigenous Services Canada has supported the TCN in the repairs and upgrades to their water treatment centre to ensure water quality continues to meet approved guidelines.

“In Manitoba specifically, 11 long-term boil water advisories have been lifted since 2015, and four remain in effect,” said the spokesperson.

“We respect the right of Indigenous groups, including TCN, to seek the intervention of the Courts.”

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

Nicole Wong, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Winnipeg Sun