Saskatchewan First Nations respond to Ottawa delay for water advisory deadline

The Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations (FSIN) is frustrated after hearing the federal government is delaying its plan to remove all long-term water advisories in First Nations communities.

It comes after a report to a House of Commons committee noted that the government’s initial target of 2021 wasn’t feasible and are pushing that deadline back to 2026 while offering communities temporary measures to ensure tap water is safe to drink.

Read more: Trudeau’s promise to improve First Nations drinking water years behind schedule: federal government

The FSIN thinks that target could’ve been reached if Ottawa put funding towards infrastructure upgrades sooner.

“There was no serious, immediate investment to rectify the water advisories on First Nations right across Canada. For us, you know we say water is a basic human right,” Chief Bobby Cameron told Global News.

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But he noted the temporary measures the Liberal government put in place to ensure safe drinking water represent a positive step.

The federal government set the 2021 goal in 2015 and has lifted 106 long-term water advisories since November of that year.

Read more: Indigenous Services minister says Trudeau government won’t end boil-water advisories by March 2021

As of April 9, there are 52 remaining advisories between 33 communities in Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Ontario.

A statement from the Indigenous Services Canada minister’s office said there is only one project currently in the feasibility stage which will need the extended timeframe.

“With interim solutions, this community is expected to lift their (advisory) by June 2021 and will therefore have access to clean water. Estimated construction completion dates are subject to change. The pandemic has impacted many water and wastewater projects, resulting in delays,” read the statement from press secretary Adrienne Vaupshas.

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Of the current advisories, Saskatchewan communities make up six across five communities.

Read more: How colonial systems have left some First Nations without drinking water

One of those is Ministikwan Lake Cree Nation (MLCN), which has seen water advisories on-and-off for years, according to one of the band’s councillors.

She said the advisories have left people in the community uneasy about the water coming out of their home taps and have opted to buy bottled or filtered water instead.

“They don’t have the money to (buy) bottled water. Most of the people aren’t even employed. Also it’s expensive to buy water,” Rose Ahenakew said.

The current advisory on MLCN has been in place since March 2020.

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