Third World Living Conditions In a First World Country
By Thirandie Semage
Canada is known for its abundant natural resources, free health care, maple syrup, and the high quality of life that most Canadian citizens enjoy.
However, behind this first world facade is a darker, more upsetting truth. While the rest of the nation enjoys a relatively high quality of life, there exist entire Indigenous communities who experience third-world living conditions on a daily basis.
Known as the “water crisis”, this human right’s violation refers to the lack of clean drinking water in Indigenous communities in Canada. With a global status as a highly developed and industrialized nation, it seems almost unbelievable that entire populations are denied a basic necessity.
However, doing just a bit of research confirmed that there are around 61 water advisories still in place, with the number increasing and decreasing periodically. Some of these advisories have been in effect since 1995. The water advisories are scattered among the provinces, with the majority of them taking place in Indigenous communities in British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Newfoundland and Labrador.
Although clean water is easily accessible for many parts of the nation, it remains a resource out of reach for Indigeous peoples. In many cases of the advisories, water is either contaminated and undrinkable, or requires boiling to be used. In these areas, finding a clean water source becomes an inconvenience that involves having to pump from a well or getting water delivered to homes.
But what exactly causes this inaccessibility?
The reasons for inaccessible clean drinking water span from lack of funding to unsafe pipeline infrastructure. Additionally, the grey area regarding the jurisdiction responsible for accessibility of water in these communities makes it harder to push for urgent and consistent solutions. A consistent process hasn’t been set up for dealing with these resource emergencies, therefore in many cases, it is unclear whether First Nations leaders or the Federal government are responsible for solving the problem.
So why exactly has this been an on-going issue?
While the Government of Canada has promised to eliminate the advisories by 2021, the progress has been slow, with many experts criticizing their approach. The Council of Canada argues that the solution of "public-private partnerships" is costly and will lead to a loss of independence for Indigenous communities.
Additionally, with no real federal laws dictating who is responsible for the water crisis, confusion among federal authorities and Indigenous leaders has emerged. Ultimately, the problem has taken a back seat and continues to be a crisis still being dealt with.
How can you help?
Such a vast issue doesn't feel like it can be solved by one person but there are ways you can make a difference. One such way you can help is by spreading awareness and educating others about the Water Crisis via social media channels and conversations. Putting pressure on our governmental structures to engage in inclusive long-term solutions through letters and campaigns will also promote a faster course of action.
Canada celebrates Orange Shirt Day as a way of remembering the injustice inflicted on past Indigenous children and to help further reconciliation. Unfortunately, without solving the present-day water resource crisis, we are inhibited from on-going reconciliation with the Indigenous communities in Canada.
We have the power and resources to ensure that our present-day Canada has a legacy that we can be proud of in the future, but such a legacy is only possible if we take action.
Canada: Blind Eye to First Nation Water Crisis. Human Rights Watch. (2020, October 3). https://www.hrw.org/news/2019/10/02/canada-blind-eye-first-nation-water-crisis. Accessed 4 Oct. 2020.
Cheung, J. M. and C. (2019, October 17). The Water Crisis in First Nations Communities: An Election Explainer. The Tyee. https://thetyee.ca/News/2019/10/17/First-Nations-Water-Crises-Explained/. Accessed 4 Oct. 2020.
Cheung, J. (2019, October 17). The Water Crisis in First Nations Communities: An Election Explainer. Retrieved October 29, 2020, from https://thetyee.ca/News/2019/10/17/First-Nations-Water-Crises-Explained/. Accessed 4 Oct. 2020.
Government of Canada; Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada. (2020, February 17). Ending long-term drinking water advisories. Government of Canada; Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada. https://www.sac-isc.gc.ca/eng/1506514143353/1533317130660. Accessed 4 Oct. 2020.
Safe Water for First Nations. https://canadians.org/fn-water. Accessed 4 Oct. 2020
Quesnel, J. (2019, June 17). Despite progress on water, the threat of an Indigenous Walkerton remains. Retrieved October 29, 2020, from https://www.macdonaldlaurier.ca/despite-progress-water-threat-indigenous-walkerton-remains-joseph-quesnel-inside-policy/. Accessed 4 Oct. 2020.
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