Documentary filmmaker Alanis Obomsawin once told me during an interview that access to clean water was a human right. That was the message that the Mother Earth Water Walk wants to draw awareness to – the continued polluting of our natural clean-water resources.
Organizers of the walk ask, “What will you do for the water?” The walk itself acts to unite all the water around the world, water gathered from the four directions by grandmothers and women of the Anishinabe Nation and carried in copper pails to be delivered to its final destination – Lake Superior.
On May 20, the Grandmothers arrived on Victoria Island in Ottawa and were greeted by a several 100 supporters, including Assembly of First Nation National Chief Shawn A-in-Chut Atleo. Grandfather William Commanda performed the opening ceremony and the Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC) and many other supporters were there to welcome lead walker Melvina Flamand. Atleo spoke of the importance of the walkers’ journey throughout North America.
“What is being demonstrated here, on Victoria Island, is that we have a united community around a common cause, a community united in its concern about the state of our water,” stated Atleo.
Atleo continued by saying that in the last two to three generations, clean water has become increasingly polluted. “We are told not to drink this water, we are told to boil our water, and we are told to buy bottled water.”
Having visited northern communities, buying bottled water can be very expensive. In communities that are already hit hard financially, extra expenses like basic clean water are why events, like the Water Walk, are so desperately needed. But are the politicians listening?
The need for clean water in many First Nations communities across Canada is becoming a life-and-death struggle. Just take a community like Fort Chipewyan, Alberta, which has seen a sharp rise in rare cancers. Many experts have said it is the poor water conditions caused by the tar sands, but the oil companies beg to differ. The federal government promised to draft drinking water standards for First Nations communities in 2007 but there has been no bill before the House of Commons and boil-water advisories remain in place on more than 90 Canadian reserves.
Unlike their “do not consume” cousins, boiled-water advisories allow tap water to be consumed for drinking and other uses like brushing teeth, provided it is first boiled.
I don’t know about you but having to boil my water before drinking or bathing in it would get tiresome very quickly. Now imagine having to do that for decades?
After leaving Ottawa, the Walkers are heading through Ontario to the Wisconsin River, where it connects to Lake Superior. They want to draw attention to the need for better water regulations across North America. We can only hope that they succeed!
You can listen to Irkar Beljaars on Native Solidarity News on CKUT 90.3FM every Tuesday 6-7pm in Montreal or contact him at Mohawk_voice on Twitter.