The recent declaration of an emergency when two pumps at the Little Current water treatment plant failed, threatening the town with a loss of treated water possibly for days, ended well, with the crisis averted before the water supply was drawn down. Had the water actually run out, the town would have undoubtedly been placed on a boil water advisory by Public Health Sudbury and Districts. Thanks to the diligent work of the town’s water contractor, some frantic scrambling by all concerned and, very importantly, the relatively deep pockets available to a municipal water system.
The irony of the situation was not lost on many observers online, who commented how swiftly the issue was rectified while so many of our nation’s First Nation communities continue to struggle with long-term water advisories—32 communities with 51 long-term advisories, according to the Indigenous Services Canada website as of June 16, 2021.
Although the same website notes that 108 advisories have been lifted since 2015, it remains a national shame that so many have gone without proper access to clean water for so long. Here on Manitoulin Zhiibaahaasing First Nation went 30 years before funding from the federal and provincial government, along with funds from the First Nation itself, finally placed a light at the end of that tunnel.
The federal government has maintained that the issue of inadequate First Nation water supplies is complex, but as the response of the Northeast Town has clearly demonstrated, where there is a will, people will find a way—provided the funds and expertise are applied in a timely fashion.
That water advisories have continued on reserves across the nation, even in arguably very accessible communities such as Zhiibaahaasing, remains a dark blot on our nation’s soul.
The phrases “we can do better” and “we must do better” are nicely mouthed, but unless a real will takes the place of pretty words our nation will continue to fall far short of the mark.
These things take time, and great progress has been made over the past five years in ending water advisories, but to argue patience to those communities impacted by water advisories that have extended to decades goes far beyond patronizing. They have waited for the end of that tunnel for far too long already.
Canadians across our great nation want to feel our national pride is justified—but as long as there is no clean water with which to wash away the stain of First Nation water advisories upon our honour, nationalist fervour will continue to be muted by shame.
In the words of a certain cable guy, it’s time to “git ‘er done.”