Long-term water advisories remain in effect for many Canadian First Nations communities during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The federal government says a total of 39 communities have been impacted by 57 long-term drinking water advisories on provincial reserves since Jan. 26.
Last month, data was released by Ottawa documenting that 30 per cent of current advisories are still pending.
Meanwhile, members of First Nations communities continue to fight for clean drinking water.
Ontario Regional Chief Roseanne Archibald told the 4th Annual Water Symposium, held virtually by the Assembly of First Nations, on Feb. 17 and 18, that First Nations have been waiting for clean water for decades.
“We must see action on years and years of recommendations, and years and years of promises. We must see action now — so that our people, our children can thrive in the safest and healthiest conditions possible,” she said.
The symposium presented discussions about clean drinking water for First Nations communities during COVID-19, and built on conversations from the Water Summit, held in November 2020.
Manitoba Regional Chief Kevin Hart said the pandemic has heightened concerns about lack of clean water.
“During this pandemic, we have seen lives at stake because of the overcrowding of housing, because of the lack of clean safe drinking water — let alone clean running water to adequately sanitize and wash your hands all the time during this pandemic,” he said.
First Nations communities across the country continue to face water advisories, some of which have been in place for decades.
A boil water advisory has been in effect since last March for Ministikwan Lake Cree Nation in Saskatchewan. In Ontario, Northwest Angle First Nation has been under a “do not consume” advisory since 2016.
The Shoal Lake First Nation, on the Ontario-Manitoba border, has been under a long-term water advisory since 1998.
The federal government of Canada released a plan last December to invest $1.5 billion for the purpose of lifting water advisories for these communities.
The government also announced an additional investment of $114.1 million every year to support the maintenance of water infrastructure in these communities.
However, some First Nation leaders are stressing money alone is not enough, pointing to the importance of improvements to infrastructure in these communities.
“First Nations need access to core infrastructure in order to improve their communities and better fight the spread of COVID-19, as well as future pandemics that may arise,” Hart said.
Moving forward, First Nations need to be included in decision-making discussions and solutions about water uncertainties in their communities, he said.
The Ontario First Nations Technical Services Corporation (OFNTSC) points to many reasons a water advisory may come into effect, including mechanical and pump breakdowns, source contamination caused by human activity, errors in chemical treatment, inadequate cash flow for parts, and vandalism by community members.
“Access to clean drinking is a basic human right. But countless First Nation’s children in Ontario have never had a drink of clean water from the tap,” Ontario First Nations Technical Services Corporation stated in a video on its website.