Calgary, Alberta February 29, 2012
– Canada announced its commitment “to take concrete action to protect drinking water on First Nation lands” by introducing Bill S-8 - the Safe Drinking Water for First Nations Act. The Honourable John Duncan, Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development (AANDC) joined Alberta Chiefs in announcing the re-introduction of the Act intended to help protect and improve water quality in First Nations communities.
The Act promises to bring First Nations water up to the same standards of other Canadian jurisdictions but the Bill faced opposition due to many outstanding issues, including the lack of meaningful consultations; an inclusive regulatory process; the inclusion of a non-derogation clause to protect treaties; capacity and resources.
“In addition to a number of amendments that have been made to the legislation to address our concerns, most recently Canada added an important clause to limit the impact of the legislation on our Treaty rights, said Treaty 7 Grand Chief Charles Weaselhead. “While we have given our conditional support, Treaty No. 7 Chiefs feel this is an important first step and are pleased that Aboriginal and Treaty rights are being respected and recognized. The Chiefs insisted on a true partnership and collaboration in the process that lead to changes to this legislation. The same collaborative approach must continue if regulatory development is to be successful and a long term funding solution is forged.”
First Nations drinking water has had a history of infamy in Canada. In comparison to drinking water off-reserve, the quality of on-reserve water is largely unacceptable. After decades of neglecting critical issues, it is promising to see a federal government finally taking real steps to address this national embarrassment.
“We have high expectations and great hope for this enabling legislation that resulted from collaboration - in my view, the collaborative approach is consistent with the true spirit and intent of our treaty and inherent rights. It is time the Crown follows through on its commitment to move forward, to begin establishing the relationships critical to rebuilding our nations. Not just reforming the status quo, but engaging transformational change in public policy and the way governments do business with us – as committed by this AANDC Minister and Prime Minister Harper at the recent Crown-First Nations Gathering. We must continue to create a treaty process based on the rights and reconciliation agenda,” says Chief Weaselhead.
“Our joint success on this legislation, which was more than two years in the making, also demonstrates that if governments are willing to work in good faith with First Nations constructive solutions can be found. Indeed, the success of the collaborative approach on this legislation, which raised many difficult issues, should be a clear message to the Government of Alberta that it should abandon its empty lip service about "working with First Nations" and actually come to the table to work with us to find a solution to water allocation and other key issues.” For more information, please contact:
Brent Scout, Treaty 7 Grand Chief's Liaison:
Treaty 7 First Nations Chiefs Association
Email: Brent Scout