Federal Bill S-11 fails to address the water crisis in First Nation communities

TORONTO, Feb. 10 /CNW/ - On February 8, 2011, Ontario Regional Chief Angus Toulouse presented to the Senate Standing Committee on Aboriginal Peoples with respect to government Bill S-11, Safe Drinking Water Act for First Nations.

The Regional Chief was clear in his presentation to the Senate Committee that First Nations in Ontario strongly oppose the imposition of Bill S-11. "Our opposition to this Bill is a clear indication that we will not accept legislation that disrespects our constitutional and treaty rights and is unilaterally imposed on us," said Regional Chief Toulouse. "This is an issue of paramount concern to First Nation leadership, as far too many of our communities lack safe drinking water and the infrastructure necessary to deliver safe drinking water. These circumstances are not acceptable and this Bill does not address the situation and is not the way forward."

The Regional Chiefs' presentation detailed areas of concern to the First Nations in Ontario which have been continuously conveyed to governments. First Nations leaders in Ontario have passed numerous resolutions with respect to safe drinking water in an effort to articulate to government how this situation can most effectively be resolved. Regional Chief Toulouse opened his presentation by stating "First Nations are entitled to enjoy safe drinking water from the sacred water sources entrusted to us and to our care and stewardship by the Creator. This right cannot be separated from our right to manage and apply our laws and values to water management".

He went on to state that all three recommendations from the government-appointed Expert Panel on Safe Drinking Water for First Nations need to be fully explored in order for the Chiefs in Ontario to be able to make an informed decision on how to address the complex issue of the lack of safe drinking water in their communities. The Expert Panel made three recommendations that they felt were feasible. The federal government took the prescriptive approach of choosing their preferred option and have refused to consider any other options. "The federal government pre-determined this from the outset and then went through the motions of holding two, one day engagement sessions with First Nations in Ontario and then have the audacity to claim they have consulted us --- absolutely unacceptable," stated Regional Chief Toulouse.

The First Nations in Ontario disagree with the imposition of legislation that does not address the significant infrastructure and capacity needs that exist which are the impediment to First Nations being able to access safe, clean drinking water. "This Bill has been designed to take the heat off the federal government for this crisis but fails to address the real issues," said the Regional Chief.

The Regional Chief reminded the Committee about the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the July 2010 United Nations resolution declaring the human right to "safe and clean drinking water and sanitation". This resolution received the support of 122 countries but Canada failed to support the resolution, choosing instead to abstain.

The Chiefs in Ontario, comprising the 133 First Nations in Ontario, is a political forum and secretariat for collective decision-making, action and advocacy.

SOURCE Chiefs of Ontario

For further information:

Andre Morriseau
Chiefs of Ontario
416-580-9320
andre@coo.org

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