There are currently 108 Aboriginal communities under boil-water advisories – some for more than a decade. It is unthinkable this situation would be allowed to continue in any major centre but for thousands of Aboriginal Peoples, it is a daily reality.
In 2005, a report by the Commissioner of Environment and Sustainable Development pointed out that reserves – unlike most provinces – do not have regulations or legislation governing drinking water. This observation came 10 years after Indian and Northern Affairs (INAC) and Health Canada warned of the major health and safety risks associated with one quarter of the water systems on reserves.
According to the Polaris Institute and the AFN, much of the blame can be placed on the federal government for improperly installing wells and filtration systems and abandoning any responsibility for maintenance and repairs after the initial installation.
But this is only part of the problem. While $330 million over two years was allocated in the 2008 federal budget to safe drinking water in First Nations communities, the current government backed away from the Kelowna Accord that dedicated $5.1 billion to improving the socioeconomic conditions and access to water for Aboriginal peoples. Even that would have only represented a portion of the resources needed to address the water crisis in First Nations communities. But it would have been a start.