Indigenous leaders in the Maritimes will decide in April whether it will move forward with a plan to create an Atlantic First Nations Water Authority.
The Atlantic Policy Congress of First Nation Chiefs has been working with Halifax Water, Ulnooweg Development Corp. and an engineering company for the past 18 months to draft a proposal to create the water authority.
If approved, the Atlantic First Nations Water Authority would regulate drinking water and wastewater in 22 First Nation communities in the Maritime provinces.
“The whole intention is for the water authority be a stand-alone entity, separate and independent from the APC,” James McKinnon, a policy analyst for housing and infrastructure with the APC.
The proposed Atlantic First Nation Water Authority was one of the main topics discussed at a meeting in Dartmouth, N.S. March 21-22 organized by the APC and Indigenous Services Canada.
Developing regulations under Safe Drinking Water for First Nations Act
The purpose of the two-day gathering was to discuss developing regulations under the Safe Drinking Water for First Nations Act.
The act has been in place since 2013 but there are currently no regulations attached to the legislation.
Chad Westmacott, a senior director with the strategic water management team with Indigenous Services Canada, said the meeting in Dartmouth is the fourth such engagement session the department as held across the country.
Two meetings were previously held in British Columbia and one was held in New Brunswick with the Mi’gmawe’l Tplu’taqnn Inc., a non-profit organization which represents the nine Mi’kmaw communities throughout the province.
According to Westmacott, the department is currently working with the Assembly of First Nations to organize future engagement sessions.
The AFN passed a resolution in 2015 calling for the repeal of the Safe Drinking Water for First Nations Act.
“There will be future engagement but at this time, we don’t know what that engagement schedule will look like because it’s really dependent on us working with the AFN who is going to be doing the First Nation led engagement process,” Westmacott said.
More dialogue needs to happen – Donna Augustine
Donna Augustine, a Mi’kmaw elder from Elsipogtog, N.B. said more meetings like this one need to be held in First Nation communities in Atlantic Canada to get more input on developing regulations.
“I really believe more dialogue needs to happen,” Augustine said. “They need to bring this across the land, especially now in the time of reconciliation,” she added.
“We need to have access to clean water. We need to know and (be) assured to have that knowledge that we will really be protected, that our water will be safe to drink,” Augustine said.
In September 2017, residents in Potlotek First Nation on Cape Breton Island, N.S. were ordered by Health Canada not to use their tap water to drink, bathe or wash clothes due to elevated levels of iron and manganese.
A month later, residents in Paqtnkek First Nation near Antigonish, N.S. were told to boil their water due to the turbidity levels in the drinking water.
Matilda Ramjattan, Chief of the Lennox Island First Nation in Prince Edward Island, said the act’s regulations, once developed, need to support the proposed Atlantic First Nations Water Authority.
“I think there should be some gap analysis. Who else needs to be involved in this conversation because safe drinking water is not just about our taps that we turn on. There’s a whole process around that, around the environment, around lands,” Chief Ramjattan said.
“Not one size fits all but the water authority would ensure liability concerns are being addressed,” she said.