According to the Safe Drinking Water Foundation, Health Canada still tells 95 communities to boil their water and Indian Affairs warns that water systems in 85 communities could break down.
SDWF presently estimates that 90 per cent of First Nations communities cannot produce a water quality that meets all of the parameters in the Canadian water quality guidelines.
While these numbers are staggering, Sue Peterson, an administrator from SDWF, said that INAC only perpetuates this situation by spending on systems that do not or will not work because they are cheaper than fixing the actual problem.
She gave the Cree community of Attawapiskat, Ontario as an example where the community has been under a boil water advisory for 20 years despite the fact that INAC spends money on its water systems annually.
“Somebody is not doing their job and somebody is not telling the truth because there are systems there and it’s not that INAC has not spent any money there. They have but it hasn’t done anything to improve the quality of their drinking water. As long as INAC is still giving out contracts to their buddies in the system, and those buddies have no incentive to put in anything that works as that would stop them from being able to go back the next year to get more money to improve the system,” said Peterson.
Peterson said that the problem stems from the fact that though INAC will make a call for tenders to engineering firms for bids on the work that needs to be done, but instead of going for a solution that would permanently solve the problem, they go for the cheapest. She said that this kind of situation persists throughout Canada where problems never get solved but INAC still funds these scenarios year to year.
“INAC should be putting out proposals based on their effectiveness, they should be required to produce (water) of a certain quality. If they did that then the engineers could submit accordingly and be accountable and maybe all of this money wouldn’t be wasted,” said Peterson.
According to SDWF’s latest report, A Review of the Engagement Sessions for the Federal Action Plan on Safe Drinking Water for First Nations, INAC has sought to exclude First Nations communities from the decision-making process and mislead them about their own treaties.
In that INAC paid for the Expert Panel assessment of First Nations Drinking Water in 2006, they had also announced that they would host consultation sessions to obtain input from First Nations on the Federal Action Plan on Safe Drinking Water for First Nations.
The first major problem with this however was that they made it virtually impossible for the First Nations groups to participate by giving some of them only one days notice to attend. The sessions also overlapped with vital annual budget events.
Peterson and other members from the SDWF attended one of these sessions in Winnipeg on behalf of the George Gordon First Nation and they were absolutely floored at what they saw transpire. Their report details how INAC and Health Canada do not share information when it comes to safe drinking water but underlines the despicable treatment of the First Nations groups that managed to attend the meetings. At that, the report documents the rude and manipulative behaviour of the INAC bureaucrats throughout the three different sessions they held in 2009 to supposedly help these communities gain access to safe drinking water.
“It’s just that they didn’t want anything else to be brought up. It was going to be their way or the highway. If you didn’t go along with their agenda, there was the door,” said Peterson.
Throughout this particular meeting the SDWF documented not only how INAC and HC provided inaccurate and misleading information to the First Nations groups but when it came time for discussion, INAC broke those attending the meeting into sub-groups. The problem with these INAC-led sub-groups was that when it came time to report back to the rest of the group, the INAC representatives excluded the information and opinions from the First Nations groups.
In Peterson’s opinion, those acting on behalf of INAC were also rude and manipulative. The report documents how in 2007 the federal government transferred responsibility and liability for drinking water to the Chief and Council of each First Nation by changing the small print of contribution agreements. Were a community to refuse to sign on, it would not receive funding for that fiscal year until such time as it did.
“They had to sign on and accept it, they were blackmailed into it and there is no way that the chief and council should be held responsible because they have systems that can not produce safe water,” said Peterson.
To read the full report and to find out more about safe drinking water on Canadian First Nations reserves, go to: www.safewater.org/home.html