December 22nd, 2020
Letter to the Prime Minister: Tataskweyak Cree Nation needs clean drinking water
Dear Prime Minister,
I am writing today to address your government’s failure to provide clean drinking water to Tataskweyak Cree Nation (“TCN”). Your government was elected in 2015 on a promise to end drinking water advisories. However, your words lack action.
The water crisis in TCN is alarming. First Nations leaders including Chief Spence have sounded the alarm. TCN has been under a drinking water advisory since 2017. Despite TCN continually expressing concerns about the deterioration of their drinking water, your government has not taken these concerns seriously.
Canada’s failure to provide TCN with clean drinking water left the community with no choice but to pursue their own independent water quality testing. This testing confirmed that their water supply contains toxic cyanobacteria which can be extremely harmful when consumed by humans. Canada’s water testing parameters do not test for all of the cyanobacteria in TCN’s source water. Instead, Canada expects TCN residents to drink and bathe in the poisonous water. It is clear that Canada does not care about First Nations on reserve.
TCN residents are falling sick from the poor quality of their drinking water. This is especially true of the children. Open sores and intense rashes are widespread among the young. Many children have rashes that cover their entire bodies. These rashes are from children bathing in the treated tap water. The water is harming the health of TCN residents. Yet Canada expects them to live in a way that would be unacceptable anywhere but a First Nations reserve.
TCN has had to fight for Canada to provide their community with bottled water – an ask that only materialized upon their commencement of legal action. This is a short term response that cannot continue forever. TCN residents should be given the same rights as other Canadians – access to clean, safe, and reliable drinking water. Minister Miller has already recognized Canada’s duty to provide clean drinking water to First Nations on reserve. On December 2, 2020, Minister Miller stated: “But one thing has not changed – the right for individuals to have access to potable water; and, we are determined to ensure that this right is upheld for everyone, including all First Nations living on reserves.”
Despite your promises, your government continues to fail First Nations. Put your words into action. Fulfill your responsibilities to First Nations. Provide First Nations including TCN with clean drinking water. TCN requires a new water source that is free of cyanobacteria. TCN has already completed a feasibility study confirming the suitability of Assean Lake to provide clean drinking water for their community. TCN has been waiting for this. Do not make them continue to wait as their community falls ill from the poisonous water.
The COVID-19 crisis has only increased the urgency for immediate action.
Most Canadians take for granted an infinite amount of clean drinking water from their taps. First Nations across the country do not know what that feels like. Many First Nations have not been able to fill a glass with water from their tap for years. Other First Nations have been waiting for decades. The wait cannot go on any longer.
Your government needs to recognize a right to a minimum standard of water access on reserves. Your government’s failures and delay have left TCN with no choice but to lead First Nations in a class action lawsuit to establish Canada’s responsibility for clean drinking water on reserve. It should not take legal action for First Nations to obtain the most basic of human rights. TCN and all First Nations in Canada need clean drinking water now.
MP Niki Ashton (Churchill-Keewatinook Aski)