Failure of Clean WaterPosted: June 24, 2024

The necessity for fresh water to live is why the United Nations declared water to be a human right. Fortunately, Canada is known for having the most fresh water in the world that comes from our unique land-mass from coast to coast, and our vicinity to the Great Lakes. Unfortunately, despite Canada’s emphasis on equality, our very own Indigenous peoples actually lack access to fresh water. This is simply unacceptable, but it’s a big problem that needs to be explained.

The Problem

Arguably the most prolific Canadian issue regarding clean water is the lack of access for Indigenous communities on reserve to fresh water.

This drinking water, including water from the tap is what many Indigenous communities face on a continuous basis. In fact, unlike most of Canada, the bare minimum requirement for drinking water to be safe is to boil it. This is simply unacceptable. Water is a human right, meaning every human being is entitled to it.

But how did safe water even become a problem in a country like Canada? A large reason lies in old colonial policies that impact Indigenous communities today. When Indigenous communities were put on reserves, the Canadian government did not build sufficient roads, schools, or other critical infrastructure such as housing pipes because at the time, they hoped that Indigenous communities would die out.

As a result, however, most (if not all Indigenous communities) are experiencing contaminated water – which needs to be fixed as soon as possible. No individual, especially in Canada with our vast amount of fresh water should have to boil the water just to drink it, or spend money to buy plastic jugs of water just to survive.

The Problem with Current Solutions

Unfortunately, the government plan is insufficient to fixing this human rights crisis since it fails to attack the underlying issues.

The government’s plan aims to eliminate all long-term boil advisories by 2021. As of September 2019, the government highlights that they have accomplished the following: (i) completing (or have completed) 441 infrastructure projects which focus on ensuring the First Nations have sufficient access to fresh water; (ii) supporting 59 projects and initiatives; and (iii) feasibility studies and projects in the design phase.

This approach, while sounding great on paper, is significantly flawed in their ability to ensure sustainable access to clean water.

First, while developing sufficient infrastructure for First Nations communities is essential for the mere existence of clean water, the lack of government training First Nations operatives mean that the new expensive facilities largely remain a junkyard. Further, the new facilities are useless if the government does not spend time training Indigenous peoples on how to operate the new infrastructure since the remote nature of these communities mean that the First Nations are the only individuals who can realistically provide long-term care for these new facilities.

Second, even if the government did train operatives, it ignores larger underlying issues that make First Nations water access nearly impossible to be sustained since it does not improve water resiliency. For example, roads are virtually empty in communities – which provide a much needed necessity for operators and water to travel. Another example is the lack of sufficient protection of the infrastructure, homes, house piping, and similar aspects from extreme weather, which can put access to water at risk. A third example is that a minimum high school degree is required to be an operator, but since roads are non-existent, and education rates are low, many people who want to be operators are non-existent.


I will now provide some recommendations for the governments that experts have advocated for decades:

  1. Take a more holistic approach when it comes to this issue. Build roads, make infrastructure and housing weather resistant, provide better education, and more to ensure that First Nations communities are provided sustainable access to water
  2. Ensure operators are trained, and provide training programs for all individuals to ensure that First Nations communities have constant water supply.
  3. Work with Canada’s amazing private sector. It is great for business since the Indigenous communities is a largely untapped market and is very marketable to stockholders concerned about social responsibility.
  4. Kickstart business and entrepreneurship in Indigenous communities to make them more self-reliant.
  5. Ensure open and transparent consultations with Indigenous peoples.