Minister of Indigenous Services, Patty Hajdu, issued the following statement today:
Access to clean water is the foundation for strong and healthy communities. World Water Day celebrates the life-giving properties of water, raises awareness about the need to protect water in Canada and around the world, and brings attention to the many people who continue to live without access to safe water, including some First Nations communities in Canada.
Today, on World Water Day, I join people from around the globe to highlight the importance of water in its many forms for human life, health and vitality.
As Indigenous Peoples know, water is life, and I raise my hands to the water walkers, water keepers and water carriers who protect and nurture water in their communities and across Canada.
This year, the United Nations theme for World Water Day is “Accelerating Change.” This theme is meaningful, as Indigenous Peoples have long called for change that better protects water, including laws, policies and other measures that protect their access to safe drinking water. This work improves lives for all peoples across the world, as without water, life becomes unsustainable.
In June 2021, the Government of Canada passed the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act. The Act requires the Government of Canada to work in consultation and cooperation with Indigenous Peoples to co-develop an action plan to achieve the objectives of the Declaration, as well as take measures to ensure that federal laws are consistent with the Declaration.
I am confident that strengthening the rights of Indigenous Peoples in law, combined with work with First Nations partners across the country, will better protect fresh water for future generations.
Canada’s First Indigenous-owned water utility
Indigenous Peoples have exercised stewardship over their land, resources and water for generations. This past November, Canada marked a historic milestone, as the Atlantic First Nations Water Authority (AFNWA) became the first Indigenous-owned water utility in Canada.
As of January 31, 2023, 11 Indigenous communities have become members of the AFNWA, and work is in progress to have eight more communities come on board. Once complete, the AFNWA will assume responsibility for water and wastewater services for as many as 4,500 households and businesses located in up to 19 participating First Nations. This represents approximately 60% of the population residing in First Nations communities in Atlantic Canada.
The AFNWA is guided by the seven grandfather teachings, with a service approach that is accountable, equitable and based on the blend of Indigenous knowledge and Western science.
The Government of Canada and First Nations will continue to build on the success of the AFNWA, which represents a new model for Indigenous water stewardship and service delivery.
Lifting long-term drinking water advisories
Some Indigenous communities remain without clean drinking water, and it is clear that more needs to be done. The Government of Canada has committed to eliminating all remaining long-term drinking water advisories on public systems on reserves and making the investments necessary to prevent future ones. We will do this work transparently and continue to report on the government’s progress on a publicly available website.
As of March 22, 2023, 138 long-term drinking water advisories have been lifted in First Nations communities. Work is ongoing in 28 First Nations communities to resolve the remaining 32 long-term water advisories, and over 245 short-term drinking water advisories have been prevented from becoming long-term.
We will continue to work directly with First Nations to support them in lifting all remaining long-term drinking water advisories on public systems across the country.
New legislation for safe drinking water
First Nations have called for legislative reform on safe drinking water to meet their needs and reflect their expertise and experiences.
In December 2021, the Safe Drinking Water for First Nations Class Action Settlement Agreement committed Canada to making all reasonable efforts to develop and introduce proposed legislation, in consultation with First Nations, to replace the 2013 Safe Drinking Water for First Nations Act. The 2013 Act was successfully repealed in 2022 in alignment with the Settlement Agreement.
Since 2018, Canada has been working with and listening to First Nations to understand what needs to be incorporated into law to protect drinking water.
On February 17, a consultation draft of a legislative proposal was shared with First Nations rights holders, including Modern Treaty and Self-Governing Nations, and First Nations organizations to support the development of new water legislation.
The legislative proposal aims to address key First Nations concerns and interests including: recognition of rights, including jurisdiction in relation to drinking water, wastewater and related infrastructure on First Nations lands; advancing long-term sustainable funding through fiscal arrangements and consultation on fiscal allocation decisions; facilitating trilateral source water protection agreements; and providing pathways for ongoing engagement.
Celebrating water operators
Water operators play a vital role in ensuring clean and safe drinking water in First Nations communities. The work they do is often behind-the-scenes, but is absolutely critical for the health and well-being of those they serve.
Each year, the government recognizes the work of water operators through the National First Nations Water Leadership Award. This award recognizes First Nations people and organizations who have demonstrated leadership and outstanding dedication to the advancement of clean and safe drinking water in First Nations communities.
If you know a First Nations individual or organization who deserves recognition for these efforts, I invite you to go to canada.ca/first-nations-water-leadership-award to find out how to submit a nomination. We are accepting nominations for this year’s award until March 31, 2023.
World Water Day allows us to reflect on our shared responsibility to protect water sources and improve and protect long-term access to clean drinking water. We must work quickly and with intention to ensure that future generations have confidence that clean water will be there for them and the generations to come.