September 30, 2005 13:59 ET

Anishinabek support call for regulations

Anishinabek support call for regulations ensuring safe water supply for First Nations Attention: Assignment Editor, City Editor, Environment Editor, News Editor, Government/Political Affairs Editor NIPISSING FIRST NATION, NORTH BAY, ON--(CCNMatthews - Sept. 30, 2005) - Anishinabek Nation leaders say a newly-released environmental study reinforces the need for the federal government to address concerns about safe drinking water for First Nations in a comprehensive way.

"The conditions of our drinking water, and the health and safety of our people is of the utmost concern," said Grand Council Chief John Beaucage. "For First Nations people, water is considered our lifeblood. It is the source of life for us all. The conditions outlined in this report are unacceptable."

In her report tabled Thursday in the House of Commons, Canada's Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development expressed concern about the lack of laws and regulations governing the provision of drinking water to First Nations residents.

"Most Canadians take it for granted their drinking water is safe," said Johanne Gelinas. "But the nearly half million Canadians living in First Nations communities have no such assurance."

The report noted that a 2001 study by Indian and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) identified a significant risk to the quality or safety of drinking water in most First Nations, and said a $600 million federal strategy announced in 2003 to upgrade First Nation water systems was not likely to succeed.

"Anishinabek leadership said at the time that it was a piecemeal approach," said Grand Council Chief Beaucage, who agreed with the Environment Commissioner's recommendation that INAC and Health Canada work with First Nations to develop laws and regulations to ensure reliable sources of safe drinking water.

"We cannot depend on government to solve our problems for us," he said. "We need to put forward our own high standards and regulations for drinking water. We need to upgrade our facilities and train our own people. But this has to be done cooperatively with government and judging by the Commissioner's report, it has to be done now. We are willing to work with the government to ensure these recommendations are implemented and First Nations drinking water is safe."

The Grand Council Chief recalled that the Union of Ontario Indians had partnered with Ontario's Ministry of Natural Resources in 2002 to stage a conference called "Water: Lifeblood of Mother Earth". The agenda included presentations by a citizens group from Walkerton, a southern Ontario town where the death of seven citizens from a bacteria- infected water supply triggered a provincial inquiry and subsequent changes to regulation of municipal water systems.

"First Nations people need the same water source protection and drinking water protection and standards as everywhere else," said Beaucage, "whether you are a mainstream municipality in Southern Ontario, or a small, remote First Nation community."

The Anishinabek Nation incorporated the Union of Ontario Indians as its secretariat in 1949. The UOI is a political advocate for 42 member First Nations across Ontario. The Union of Ontario Indians is the oldest political organization in Ontario and can trace its roots back to the Confederacy of Three Fires, which existed long before European contact.

Contact Information

  • Maurice Switzer, Union of Ontario Indians
    Primary Phone: 705-497-9127 ext. 2272
    E-mail: swimau@anishinabek.ca