ONWA – Bill S-8 fails to address the most pressing needs and issues

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THUNDER BAY – “Without first developing infrastructure, clear financial commitments, and adequate training programs for water system operation and management, Bill S-8 fails to address the most pressing needs and issues that pertain to First Nations drinking water and governance,” says Betty Kennedy, ONWA Executive Director. “ONWA urges that before the Bill progresses any further, a collaborative, long-term and sustainable strategy on safe drinking water for First Nations be put in place.”

The Ontario Native Women’s Association (ONWA) is very disappointed with the progress of Bill S-8, Safe Drinking Water for First Nations Act which was recently passed by the Senate, due to grave concerns that the Bill fails to protect safe drinking water for First Nation communities.

According to traditional teachings, Indigenous women are tasked with the responsibility of ensuring the protection of water, conveying its importance and significance among their people and ensuring water resources are not exploited.

“ONWA takes particular issue with Clause 3 of Bill S-8 which, despite its recognition that this legislation does not negate existing Aboriginal treaty rights, provides exceptions ‘to the extent necessary to ensure the safety of drinking water on First Nation lands’. This exception is vague and ‘leaves the door open’ for infringement on treaty rights.

“Water and the increasing public issues around conservation, protection and Indigenous knowledge are mainstream discussion items that lack meaningful Indigenous participation in the development of management strategies,” stated Dr. Dawn Harvard, President, ONWA Board of Directors. “We insist that Indigenous women be consulted with continued respect and consideration for the fact that they have always been the ones tasked with the responsibility of providing and protecting our clean water.”

While ONWA supports the development of water quality standards and regulations, it is critical that such standards are developed as a joint effort between Aboriginal women, their communities, Aboriginal leadership, and governments. It is also imperative that consideration is given to ensure that adequate federal and provincial supports for facilitation and full implementation are provided.

ONWA’s concerns are shared by the Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples, who noted that “the text of the bill may not, on its face, adequately address the needs of First Nations to build capacity to develop and administer appropriate laws for the regulation of water and wastewater systems on First Nation lands.” The Committee further stated that “the development of any regulations should and must be a joint process involving both the federal government and First Nations.” To date there is no such mechanism.

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