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New policy for First Nations water and waterwater systems

By Randy Thoms Dec 12, 2023 | 4:10 PM

Patty Hadju, federal Minister of Indigenous Services, December 11, 2023. CPAC screen grab

The federal government is looking to give First Nations stronger protection of their water systems.

Legislation tabled on Monday includes a federal commitment to funding and new standards for water and wastewater.

Indigenous Services Minister Patty Hadju says it took almost eight years to bring to reality.

“This legislation goes leaps and bounds further than the previous legislation, where the previous legislation imposed the responsibilities without the appropriate levels of support. It is in everyone’s interest that we protect the water here in Canada that feeds First Nations, that is on First Nations, and we’re looking forward to that continued work together,” says Hadju.

More specifically, the Bill would:

  • Require the Minister of Indigenous Services to make best efforts, in consultation and cooperation with First Nations, to provide access to safe drinking water on First Nation lands;
  • Strengthen funding commitments through best efforts to provide adequate and sustainable funding for water services on First Nation lands comparable to services received in non-First Nations communities;
  • Require that funding, at a minimum, meets the commitment of expenditures set out in the 2021 Safe Drinking Water for First Nations Settlement Agreement;
  • Establish minimum national standards for drinking water and wastewater on First Nation lands, based on First Nation choice;
  • Facilitate water agreements, including transboundary source water protection agreements (First Nations, Canada, and provincial and territorial governments) and bilateral financial agreements between First Nations and Canada to support the exercise of First Nation jurisdiction;
  • Support the implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, including through consultation and cooperation on federal regulatory and funding allocation decisions.

It also proposes the creation of a First Nations Water Commission to support First Nations with their water and wastewater services.

“Expertise that is First Nations-led has been long needed and called for by partners. This tool is a large one. It ensures that solutions to ongoing and future water challenges are by First Nations, for First Nations. It supports the self-determination and expertise of communities, and it will ensure the tools needed to continue to protect water for generations to come,” says Hadju.

Hadju says the legislation was also drafted in consultations with First Nations, though some are disputing that fact.