Manitoba First Nation seeking help from United Nations over their lack of clean water

Long term drinking water advisories remain an issue in many First Nation communities throughout Canada.

Tataskweyak Cree Nation (TCN) in northern Manitoba says it is calling on the United Nations to help pressure the federal government into taking action to fix their drinking water.

The community of 2,300 located about 800 km due north of Winnipeg, has been under a drinking water advisory since 2017, one of many communities throughout Canada that is under a drinking water advisory.

“This issue that we’ve been dealing with in our community, we can longer ignore it anymore. We have to fight for our people. We matter like all other Canadians right,” said TCN Chief Doreen Spence.

In 2019 the community launched a class action lawsuit and that action was certified in July of 2020. The class can include any member of a band whose land was subject to a water advisory that lasted at least one year, at any point from Nov. 8, 1995, until present.

Now, the community is calling on the United Nations to help with their water crisis. The community has written a letter to the UN special rapporteurs.

“Canada’s inaction has left TCN no choice to bring this to the United Nations. You know our children, our members are still getting sick from the water and I feel that, you know it’s Canada’s responsibility and duty to provide to all first nations and clean drinking is one of them,” said Spence.

Rapporteurs conduct fact-finding missions to countries to investigate allegations of human rights violations.

The community often buys bottled water because they don’t trust the water in the area. Those who do drink the water often develop skin problems such as rashes.

NDP MP Niki Ashton hopes this call for international help spurs the federal government into action.

“If they won’t be moved by their own failure, if they won’t be moved by a class action lawsuit, hopefully being shamed on the international stage will force them to act. Let’s be clear. This is a pattern of this government,” Ashton said. “They’ve been sued for lack of funding for First Nations children in care, over their failure to get clean drinking water.

“It begs the question, how many lawsuits will it take for the federal government to respect their human rights obligations to First Nations.

Tataskweyak conducted two water studies at their own expense in 2018 and 2019 for the water they get from Split Lake.

According to the community’s lawyer Michael Rosenberg, the results showed the water treatment plant is unable to treat the various bacteria in the water.

These bacteria include E. coli contamination and three types of cyanobacteria, better known as blue-green algae which produce toxins harmful to humans.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, cyanobacteria can create their own toxins called cyanotoxins. These toxins are among the most powerful natural poisons known.

“The water treatment plant is not designed to remove all of those toxins and as Ms. Ashton mentioned, current testing regime does not test for all of them and so part of the effort has been to work with the federal government to put in place a testing regime that will address the concerns that are raised by the studies that Tataskweyak Cree Nation commissioned,” Rosenberg said.

As stated on their website, Indigenous Services Canada (ISC), as of Jan. 26 there are currently 57 long term drinking water advisories in 39 communities.

“Indigenous Services Canada (ISC) has supported the community in the repairs and upgrades to their water treatment centre to ensure water quality continues to meet approved guidelines,” said a statement from spokesperson Adrienne Vaupshas.

“Since 2016, ISC has provided over $23.5 million toward water and wastewater upgrades, which has provided a new lagoon, lift station, distribution lines, and repairs and upgrades to the water treatment plant, as well as a detailed source water study. A further investment of approximately $700,000 is planned for 2020-2021 to complete water and wastewater work.

“We respect the right of Indigenous groups, including Tataskweyak Cree Nation, to seek intervention of the Courts. We cannot further comment as the matter is before the courts.”

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