THUNDER BAY – INDIGENOUS – Manitoba Regional Chief Cindy Woodhouse of the Assembly of First Nations spoke at the United Nations Water Conference in New York, advocating for the rights of First Nations in any action related to water governance. She emphasized the need for intensified action to achieve safe drinking water and sanitation for all Indigenous peoples, which is a fundamental human right.
Regional Chief Woodhouse stated that First Nations work hard to fulfill their inherent responsibilities as caretakers of water, which is a sacred part of their way of life and central to their health and livelihoods. First Nations’ responsibilities and rights regarding water include all aspects of water use, jurisdiction, and stewardship, as well as water governance over drinking water and sanitation. For First Nations, water is life, and this belief extends to everyone, not just First Nations.
The UN Water Action Plan must protect all water and emphasize that clean drinking water and sanitation is a human right for all, including Indigenous peoples. Regional Chief Woodhouse called for a greater global commitment to water security and mentioned the ongoing struggle of many First Nations. As of February 2023, 32 First Nations in Canada are still under long-term boil water advisories, and many face repeated short-term advisories.
Regional Chief Woodhouse stressed that no First Nation should be left behind, and while there have been efforts to end long-term boil water advisories, the goal of zero has not yet been achieved. She called for the protection, respect, and full implementation of the fundamental human rights of all Indigenous peoples to safe drinking water, adequate sanitation, and broader water security.
At the mid-point of the UN Water Decade, Regional Chief Woodhouse called for a specific and intensified call to action on the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation for Indigenous peoples. She highlighted the ongoing dialogue at the annual UN Forum on Sustainable Development and the upcoming UN General Assembly Resolution on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.