More Action Needed as Federal Government Walks Back Commitment to Eliminate Drinking Water Advisories

Nishnawbe Aski Nation (NAN) Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler has responded with disappointment and concern to Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller’s announcement today that the Government of Canada will not meet its commitment to eliminate all long-term drinking water advisories in First Nations by March 2021.

“Using the coronavirus to walk back this commitment was predictable. I am disappointed, but not surprised that the government has abandoned this target. Everyone needs safe water, especially during a global pandemic, and this work should have been prioritized. I acknowledge the new funding commitments, but I am concerned that these are open-ended goals without firm timelines or accountability,” said Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler. “NAN First Nations have been waiting for these resources for far too long. If this government is serious about re-setting this agenda, the work must be done in a collaborative way that meets the needs of our communities. This includes establishing policy to ensure that funding structures for new plants, upgrades, and operation and maintenance truly meet their needs. We need to double-down and fix these systems as quickly as possible to provide assurance to our communities that the work that needs to be done, will be done. I ask Minister Miller and this government to join us in this commitment.”

The design and construction of water treatment and distribution systems in remote First Nations presents unique challenges, and operation and maintenance funding is severely inadequate under current federal formulas. NAN’s 2018 Education Infrastructure Needs Assessment found that current funding levels only covers approximately 44 per cent of the actual costs of properly operating and maintaining infrastructure in NAN communities.

The lack of sufficient operation and maintenance funding is one of the main causes of water problems in NAN First Nations. Even with the Minister’s commitment that funding will be provided at 100 per cent, the current funding formula is severely flawed and operation and maintenance will remain significantly underfunded. This leads to an endless cycle of costly breakdowns and service disruption.

NAN welcomes the Minister’s commitment to developing new polices around operation and maintenance funding, but NAN leadership must be directly involved to ensure that actual needs and costs are met.

There are currently 11 long-term drinking water advisories and four short-term drinking water advisories in NAN communities:

Long-term Drinking Water Advisories (over 1 year):

  • Muskrat Dam
  • Sandy Lake
  • Sachigo Lake
  • Nibinamik
  • Deer Lake
  • Bearskin Lake Community Centre/Arena/Youth Centre (semi-public) water system
  • Mishkeegogamang 63A
  • Neskantaga
  • North Spirit Lake
  • Wawakapewin
  • Marten Falls

Short-term Drinking Water Advisories (less than 1 year):

  • Bearskin Lake Nursing Station (semi-public) water system
  • Mishkeegogamang Ace Lake (public) water system
  • North Caribou Lake
  • Wapekeka

Evacuated members of Neskantaga First Nation are still waiting to return after being forced to leave their homes in October after a complete shutdown of the remote community’s water system due to a contaminant. Neskantaga has not had safe drinking water since 1995 – the longest running boil water advisory in Canada. Today, there is still no running water in the community, including the temporary reverse osmosis system that the community has relied on for years as the only source of safe drinking water.

For more information please contact:
Michael Heintzman,
Director of Communications
Cell: (807) 621-2790