The Water Crisis Plaguing Indigenous Reservations Across Canada: How You Can Help (French version available)
Picture this, the year is 2022: you live in Canada, which is often advertised and perceived as being one of the safest countries, rich in resources and many beneficial aspects such as access to free healthcare. In fact, in 2020, Canada was ranked as one of the countries with the highest quality of life in the world (Hazan 2020). Based on such presumptions, one can reasonably assume that all Canadian citizens have access to basic human rights such as clean drinking water, right? Unfortunately, this is not the case. For the majority of Indigenous reservations across Canada, gaining access to clean water is not easy at all. Many have been on drinking water advisories for decades, meaning they have to filter out of boiling water even if they want something as simple as a drink.
Problems with Water Quality
Water is often filled with parasites, viruses, or extremely harmful bacteria such as E.coli. In 2016, the University of Saskatchewan conducted a review of studies conducted between 2000 and 2015, which found many common health concerns caused by the lack of clean drinking water – including skin problems such as sores, rashes and eczema, birth defects, and gastrointestinal illnesses. This is a problem that has gone uncared for and unheard of for decades, with communities such as Southern Ontario’s Neskantaga having to use water advisories since 1995.
It was not until 2015 that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau vowed to end this crisis by March 2021, despite it having gone ignored for much longer. According to the Indigenous Foundation, this deadline has since been pushed back to 2026, with over 51 drinking water advisories still in place on Indigenous reservations across Canada. This has had a number of devastating impacts – Indigenous people are unable to access water not only as a human right, but as a spiritual, cultural component of their lives. Because reservations are often remote, the government only gives a certain amount of money to these communities to fund their resources. When the water systems fail, they are extremely expensive to fix. Either way, there’s no easy or simple way for those on reservations to get the help that they need.
Donate: There are many organizations (many Indigenous-owned) that are dedicated to assisting Indigenous communities with the water crisis, including True North Aid, Water First, and Water for People Canada. In some cases, you can donate directly to Indigenous communities as they have their own individual charities. There are also many organizations dedicated not only to the water crisis on reserves, but the housing or mental health crises as well, including Honoring Indigenous Peoples and Habitat for Humanity. Below, I have included the links to some of the charities for this issue.
Spread Awareness: One of the main things that all of us can do in order to end water advisories and hopefully end unclean drinking water on Indigenous reservations is spread awareness about it. You’d be surprised as to how many people are unaware of this issue; they do not help because they do not even know there is an issue at hand in the first place. Do some research, learn about this issue and where it started. Post about it on social media, whether it be sharing someone else’s post or creating your own digital content and sharing it on your social media platforms. Maybe you can create digital posters and hang them around your school. Remember, education is the gateway to awareness, and awareness is what leads to action.
Write a Letter: At the end of the day, the main source of enforcement towards fixing this issue will be the Canadian government. As there does not seem to be much awareness towards this issue, one thing that the government can definitely do is talk about this issue more – don’t leave it under wraps. As Canadian citizens, it is up to us to help one another. I have seen many foundations and websites talk about the importance of words and their impact, especially on those of people in positions of power. Write a letter to Prime Minister Trudeau, let him know that it is time for this problem to end; that much more must be done in order to ensure that all Indigenous communities have safe drinking water. We must prioritize this issue, in fact, this should not even be an issue in the first place.
Goldfinger, Daina. “‘An ongoing symbol of colonization’: How bad water affects First Nations’ health.” Global News, 30 September 2021, https://globalnews.ca/news/8199988/first-nations-water-crisis-health-effects/. Accessed 8 August 2022.
Hazan, Jeremy. “Canada Has Ranked #1 in the World For Best Quality of Life.” Narcity, Narcity Media Group, 13 November 2020, https://www.narcity.com/canada-has-ranked-1-in-the-world-for-best-quality-of-life. Accessed 8 August 2022.
Leyland, Cecco. “ Dozens of Canada’s First Nations lack drinking water: ‘Unacceptable in a country so rich.’” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media Limited, 30 April 2021, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/apr/30/canada-first-nations-justin-trudeau-drinking-water. Accessed 8 August 2022.
Luo Xue, Carina. “The Water Crisis in Canada’s First Nations Communities.” ArcGIS StoryMaps, 14 November 2021, https://storymaps.arcgis.com/stories/52a5610cca604175b8fb35bccf165f96. Accessed 8 August 2022.
McDonald, Kasey et al. “Lack of Clean Drinking Water in Indigenous communities.” The Indigenous Foundation. https://www.theindigenousfoundation.org/articles/lack-of-clean-drinking-water-in-indigenous-communities. Accessed 8 August 2022.
True North Aid: https://truenorthaid.ca/
Water for People Canada: https://www.canadahelps.org/en/charities/water-for-people-canada-de-leau-pour-tous-canada/
Water First: https://waterfirst.ngo/