February 11th, 2021
Letter to the Prime Minister & Minister Miller: Tataskweyak Cree Nation & all First Nations deserve clean drinking water
Dear Prime Minister & Minister Miller,
I am writing today to condemn your government’s gross failures when it comes to delivering clean drinking water to First Nations. Today, 58 long-term drinking water advisories continue on First Nations reserves across the country. One First Nation that has been clear about the need for long term Federal action is Tataskweyak Cree Nation in Northern Manitoba.
Year after year, Canada commits to take the action required to eliminate the drinking water crisis on First Nations. Minister Miller has continually repeated these promises. Most recently, in December 2020, Minister Miller recognized that Canada must “build a sustainable system that ensures that First Nations communities have access to safe drinking water now and for generations to come” and acknowledged his role in “bear[ing] the responsibility for this and the…duty to get this done.” Minister Miller’s words recognize the legal duties that Canada owes First Nations at the domestic and international levels. However, Canada’s actions continually fail to fulfill these responsibilities, resulting in continued human rights violations among First Nations.
I represent Tataskweyak Cree Nation, a First Nation with 2,300 members living on a reserve in northern Manitoba. Tataskweyak has been under a drinking water advisory for nearly four years, during which time its members have been unable to drink the water from their taps. Despite Tataskweyak leadership continually expressing their concerns about their drinking water, the Government of Canada has repeatedly failed to take meaningful action in response. As a result, Tataskweyak undertook their own independent water quality testing, which confirmed that their water supply contains cyanobacteria that produce harmful toxins. Unfortunately, Canada’s water testing parameters do not test for all of the cyanobacteria found in their water source. Instead, Canada expects Tataskweyak residents to drink contaminated water.
The water in Tataskweyak is making people sick. Stomach illnesses are widespread in the community. Children are covered with intense skin rashes and sores from bathing in the treated tap water. Community members are increasingly falling sick from chronic illness. The water crisis also impedes cultural, religious, and spiritual practices.
This is a reality that repeats itself across First Nations in Canada. For example, Neskantaga First Nation – a community of 300 in northern Ontario, has been under a drinking water advisory for more than 25 years. Nearly all community members were evacuated for two months in winter 2020, after mineral oil leaked into the community’s reservoir, causing their water supply to be shut off entirely. Numerous other issues that impair Neskantaga’s water quality and safety continue to go unaddressed by Canada.
Tataskweyak, Neskantaga, and First Nations across the country have alerted Canada to their water crises for decades and Canada’s response has been to focus more on empty words than fulfilling promises. Even though Canada recognizes their responsibilities to First Nations, these communities have been left to wait – as their infrastructure further deteriorates, their residents contract illnesses, and their culture disappears. This is Canada’s legacy of racism and human rights abuses.
COVID-19 has made action more urgent now than ever. COVID-19 has compounded the impacts of the chronic infrastructure deficits which fuel the water crises in First Nations. Many First Nations across the country are unable to comply with public health directives, as clean water is not available from the tap. Again, First Nations have been forced to pay the price of Canada’s inaction, as the virus has disproportionately impacted First Nations.
Canada’s failure to fulfill its duties to First Nations contravenes countless international human rights standards. Canada must take meaningful action to uphold:
- First Nations’ right to clean drinking water and sanitation – which are essential to the realization of all human rights – pursuant to the UN General Assembly Resolution 64/292.
- First Nations’ right to public health and equal participation in cultural activities, pursuant to the Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.
- First Nations’ children’s rights to the highest standard of health and a standard of living that nourishes their physical, mental, spiritual, moral, and social development, pursuant to the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
- First Nations’ right to maintain their distinctive relationship with water, pursuant to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
First Nations have been forced to wait for too long. Generations of children have grown without ever having access to clean and safe water from their taps.
Canada has failed to identify a clear path forward to address the continuation of long-term drinking water advisories on First Nations. International pressure is required to urge Canada to address these human rights violations. That is why I am supporting any and all efforts by Tataskweyak Cree Nation to get clean drinking water, including their class action lawsuit against Canada and their call for the UN to investigate Canada for gross human rights violations.
Minister Miller, Prime Minister Trudeau, the time of empty words and broken promises is over. First Nations need clean drinking water now.
MP Niki Ashton (Churchill--Keewatinook Aski)