Riverkeeper Blog: World Water Day 2017

Riverkeeper Meredith Brown talks about her trip to the Barriere Lake First Nations Reserve on March 22, 2017.

Water is Life. March 22, World Water Day is an international day to encourage us to take action on important and relevant water issues. As your Riverkeeper for the Ottawa River Watershed, I am exposed to numerous issues that impact water quality, biodiversity and community health. In my opinion there is nothing more important than the very fundamental human right to a safe drinking water supply close to home.

First Nations people have the same human rights to adequate water and sanitation as all Canadians, but in practice have been met with numerous challenges to access them. Across Canada today, there are approximately 80 First Nations reserves without access to safe drinking water. Within 300 kilometres of Ottawa, our Anishinaabe neighbours in Kitigan Zibi and Barriere Lake are struggling to provide their people with safe drinking water. Is it complicated? Of course. Can we find solutions? Of course.

On World Water Day, I am spending the day with the Algonquins of Barriere Lake, on their territory in Quebec, about 300 km north of Ottawa. The Algonquins of Barriere Lake are a First Nation who hunt, fish, trap, and harvest on their territory that is 10,000 square kilometers, situated in the headwaters of the Ottawa and Gatineau Rivers.

It will be a day of learning and listening. The Algonquins of Barriere Lake are struggling to exercise their right to “free prior and informed consent” – the principle that a community has the right to give or withhold its consent to proposed projects that may affect the lands they customarily own, occupy or otherwise use. The community is fighting proposed copper mining in their territory that they fear will threaten their drinking water supply and have a negative impact on an already low sturgeon population.
Upon my return I will share my experience with the Algonquins of Barriere Lake and ideas for how we might help them. As they say in Algonquin – ginawaydaganuc – we are all connected. We share the waters that connect and sustain us and we must work together to protect them.

5 responses to “Riverkeeper Blog: World Water Day 2017”

  1. Paul Gallagher says:

    I wonder what has to be done to ensure both safe and sustained clean drinking water and habitat, as well as facilitating mining operations with the economic and jobs prospects that might ensue. I worked, years ago, through my student days at a deep hard rock uranium mine near Eliot Lake, Ontario and it paid for my education. I recall too that we had a fair number of First Nation men working in a variety of jobs including pipe-fitters, drivers, mill operators, etc. Of uranium mining near Eliot Lake is now defunct. With all the expertise ‘we’ have accumulated surely there is a way to formulate a viable framework, including legislative, to facilitate and obligate any potential mine operator to environmentally safe and friendly practices than can be independently validated.

    • Meredith Brown says:

      Thanks for sharing your experience Paul. My head is reeling today after spending the day on the reserve. The cycle of poverty and disrespect runs so deep. I want to find ways to help. I will be writing another blog about my experience.

  2. Jim Coffey says:

    Of all things for our First Nation communities to lack … it should not be safe, clean drinkable water. As a nation this is something that needs to be fixed with no time or expense to waste.

  3. Pat Taylor says:

    I don’t understand how on one hand Ottawa River Keeper seemingly advocates for safe drinking water and then on the other hand accepts funds from RBC , a large funder for the Tar Sands and TD who is invested in DAPL. Have you not learnt anything from Standing Rock and the Water Protectors or from the high rates of cancer found in the Athabasca Chipewyan and Mikisew Cree First Nations who live downstream from the Tar Sands on the Athabasca River. Please educate your organization on intersectionality and green washing, Divest from RBC and TD because it’s 2017. All your efforts and hard work are useless and not credible as long as you continue to accept funding from these banks.

  4. Cale Jackson says:

    Even worse is the legacy of abandoned mines and industrial sites which continue to leach toxins such as arsenic into watersheds. Many of these sites are located within or near First Nations territories. Unfortunately our government, both past and current, remain silent on this issue. The need for legislation to end the profiteering of corporations on water and natural resources needs to end.

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