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.