About the deplorable water quality in aboriginal communities including Lubicon

Friends of the Lubicon
PO Box 444 Stn D,
Etobicoke ON M9A 4X4
Tel: (416) 763-7500
Email: fol (at) tao (dot) ca
www.lubicon.ca

May 28, 2008

Included below for your information is a copy of a self-explanatory letter with attachments on water quality in aboriginal communities in Canada generally and on the Lubicon water situation in particular.

Chief Ominayak's January 30, 2008 letter to Minister Strahl is particularly important in understanding why the government of Canada is making so little progress in this area despite banner government announcements about making sure everybody in Canada has safe drinking water and bravado government claims about supposed government progress to that end.


Lubicon Lake Indian Nation
P.O. Box 6731
Peace River, AB T8S 1S5
Phone: 403-629-3945
Fax: 403-629-3939

05/26/08

Tony Clarke
Executive Director
Polaris Institute
180 Metcalfe Street
Suite 500
Ottawa, ON K2P 1PS
Email: tclarke@polarisinstitute.org

National Chief Phil Fontaine
Assembly of First Nations
Trebla Building
473 Albert Street
Suite 810
Ottawa, ON K1R 5B4
Email: sloft@afn.ca

Ken Georgetti
President
Canadian Labour Congress
2841 Riverside Drive
Ottawa, ON K1V 8X7
Email: president@clc-ctc.ca

Gentlemen:

Without in any way minimizing the very real problems faced by the six First Nations mentioned in the water quality report jointly released by your respective organizations on May 22, 2008, or the very real problems faced by other aboriginal people across the country, I would like to point out that all of the traditional sources of Lubicon drinking water have been contaminated by resource exploitation activity and the water in Lubicon Territory has not been drinkable for over 18 years.

You say in your report that "water has become a source of fear and many aboriginal people have good reason to believe that what comes out of their taps may be making them sick". The Lubicon people don’t have any taps. We have no water and sewer system at all. Despite the fact that our traditional hunting and trapping economy has been destroyed by resource exploitation activity and many of our people have been forced onto welfare and don’t own vehicles, our people have to somehow arrange to go over 100 kilometers one way in order to buy bottled drinking water. Bottled drinking water costs $5 for 22 liters. Gas to make the return trip costs $100. Welfare rates are $234 a month for a single individual.

You mention in your report the medical problems being faced by aboriginal people as a result of contaminated water. The water and air in Lubicon Territory have been contaminated by resource exploitation activity and our people have been facing serious medical problems since the mid-1980’s including widespread asthma and skin rashes among our children so severe that they cause permanent scarring; a tuberculosis epidemic affecting a third of our people; near-epidemic respiratory and stomach problems; cancers of all kinds and reproduction problems that during one 18 month period included 19 still born Lubicon babies out of 21 pregnancies.

You indicate in your report that some 100 aboriginal communities across the country were on drinking water advisories as of last month "without adequate response from the federal government". We have been in on-again off-again discussions with federal officials about lack of safe Lubicon drinking water since July of 2002 -- including 5 different federal Indian Affairs Ministers -- without any result whatsoever. In this regard I attach for your information a copy of a letter I sent to the current federal Indian Affairs Minister on January 30, 2008 spelling out the response we’ve been receiving from federal officials. It’s an instructive, documented case study of how the Canadian government deals with the issue of safe drinking water for aboriginal people. To date Mr. Strahl has not shown the Lubicon people the courtesy of a response to my letter of January 30, 2008.

The Lubicon people know other aboriginal people in Canada face terrible problems. We have never asked to be put ahead of anybody or complained about the services available to anybody else. However we are the only status Indian people in Alberta with no water and sewer system at all, and we are maybe the only status Indian people in Canada with no water and sewer system at all, and we do think the particular situation of the Lubicon people merits mention in a report on water quality in aboriginal communities and reserves in Canada.

Sincerely,

Original Signed by

Bernard Ominayak
Chief, Lubicon Lake Indian Nation

 

Attach: January 30, 2008 letter to Minister Strahl
May 23, 2008 Edmonton Journal article on water report

cc: Miloon Kothari, UN Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing


First Nations water quality 'deplorable,' report warns

'What comes out of their taps may be making them sick'

Mike De Souza
Canwest News Service

Friday, May 23, 2008

Water quality in aboriginal communities and reserves across the country has reached a "boiling point," warns a new report released Thursday by the Polaris Institute, the Assembly of First Nations and the Canadian Labour Congress.

"The deplorable conditions that First Nation people live in would not be accepted in any other part of the country," says the report, co-authored by Andrea Harden and Holly Levaillant from the Polaris Institute, a citizens' rights advocacy group that challenges corporate influence on public policy issues.

"For many, water has become a source of fear, and people have good reason to believe that what comes out of their taps may be making them sick. What is happening should be considered a violation of fundamental human rights in this country."

The report, which focused on six First Nations communities across the country -- Landsdowne House and Pikangikum in Ontario, Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg in Quebec, Yellow Quill First Nation in Saskatchewan, Fort Chipewyan in Alberta, and Little?Salmon Carmacks in the Yukon territory -- says that the situation has reached a crisis for many local residents.

"One of the problems that we face, of course, is that there is a tendency to blame us for the situation," said Phil Fontaine, national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, at a news conference. "Well in fact, we never polluted or contaminated our water, yet we're being held accountable to make sure we fix this, and I think this is completely unfair."

About 100 aboriginal communities across the country remained on drinking water advisories as of last month without adequate response from the federal government, according to the report.

"While $330 million in the 2008 budget was allocated to safe drinking water in First Nations communities over two years, the current government has backed away from the Kelowna Accord that dedicated $5.1 billion to improving the socio-economic conditions and access to water for aboriginal people," says the report. "Although the accord would not have closed the gap between the standard of living for First Nations and non-aboriginals in Canada, it was a sign of progress."

Fontaine said there has been progress in some communities, but that many aboriginals continue to face "startling" conditions that would shock many Canadians, such as water that is contaminated by uranium, harmful bacteria or substances that can stain metal. He added that Landsdowne House, which is profiled in the report, has been under a boiling water advisory for more than a decade.

"This is a challenge that is before the entire country. It isn't just the people that experience poverty -- First Nations people," said Fontaine. "It's a direct result of gross negligence on the part of successive governments."

The report also raises concerns about the impact of development in Alberta's oilsands on water quality and the environment for the Fort Chipewyan community where a local physician, John O'Connor, was the subject of a complaint from the federal and provincial governments when he spoke out about an outbreak of a rare form of cancer affecting the locals.

Indian Affairs and Northern Development Minister Chuck Strahl said the federal government is making progress on improving drinking water standards, but noted that the report didn't necessarily capture that since it focused on six communities with known problems.

He added that his government would need to introduce new legislation to specifically cover First Nations water issues.

"There is work to do there, and that admittedly has to be done," he said in an interview.

Strahl added water quality issues tend to affect smaller towns and they are being addressed by the government in native and non-native communities from coast to coast.

¬©¬?The Edmonton Journal 2008


Chief Ominayak's January 30, 2008 letter to Indian Affairs Minister Strahl is available here.

It’s an instructive, documented case study of how the Canadian government deals with the issue of safe drinking water for aboriginal people.


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