Native Village 
Youth and Education News
May, 2013
STANDING STILL: Running water remains a dream for most on Six Nations
Condensed by Native Village

Canada: The lack of clean tap water affects most of the 12,146 residents on the Six Nations reserve -- the most populous in Canada. Up to 80% of the homes are not connected to water lines, so residents rely on wells or cisterns that are almost universally contaminated by run-off from nearby farms, industry and human waste.
More than 300 homes have no access to any water at all.

 Contaminated wells
Many factors contribute to well water contamination at Six Nations — including the type of well.
The most prevalent --dug or bored wells -- are more prone to contamination.  Drilled wells are typically safer, since they draw water from deeper in the water table.
At Six Nations, contamination in both types of wells is widespread.

Potential contaminants
•  Surface water run-off
•  Vermin, including insects, spiders, snakes and small rodents
•  Trucked-in water
•  Fuel storage facilities
•  Septic systems and sewage lagoons
•  Dumps and uncontrolled waste disposal
•  Agriculture
•  Salt storage facilities
•  Cemeteries

The losers
Politicians and residents agree that Six Nations residents would be safer if water lines were expanded across the reserve.
But not everyone would gain from doing so. The potential losers:

•  Port-a-potty providers
•  Private water companies and trucks
•  Laundromats
•  Anyone peddling bottled water, including convenience stores, gas stations and grocery stores

The players
Many are accountable for providing drinking water on First Nations. Here’s how responsibility breaks down:

First Nations
•  Own, manage, operate and monitor water and wastewater services
•  Design and construct facilities
•  Issue drinking water advisories

Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada
•  Advise and fund design, construction, operation and maintenance of water and wastewater facilities
•  Review designs with Health Canada and Environment Canada
•  Set standards through protocols
•  Fund training for water plant operators and staff

Health Canada
•  Establish monitoring programs and help First Nations identify potential problems with drinking water quality
•  Advise, guide, and offer  safety recommendations about drinking water and sewage disposal

Environment Canada
•  Advise and offer guidance on source water protection and sustainable water use
•  Regulate treatment of wastewater discharged to water

“They keep talking about running water, that one day we’ll get water. But it won’t be in my lifetime,” says 81-year-old Bertha Sky.

“We used to have real good water when we were kids,” says band Chief Bill Montour. “But over the years, it’s deteriorated.”

Well water poses the biggest risk. 86% of the wells are contaminated, and a boil-water advisory has been in effect for over
10 years. 

“This is not OK,” says Sarah Dickson, a professor at McMaster University and an expert in groundwater contamination. “As Canadians, we should be ashamed there are people living in our country under these conditions and with this quality of water.”

“The question is how do you solve the problem?”

For Six Nations, the construction of a $41,000,000 water treatment plant north of Grand River should be completed this fall. It will expand the current capacity by 500% and push drinkable water to 480 homes in Ohsweken already on water lines.

A proposed
800-home subdivision north of the reserve will also be on the system, says Montour.

But it doesn’t fix the issue. Instead, it complicates it.

The plant won’t improve access for 2,200 homes, schools and businesses that aren’t on water lines.
The expense of extending water lines to every home on the reserve would be a costly
Another problem is the community’s existing wastewater system. It can't handle and expanded load. 

In a perfect world, money would come from the federal government. Water and wastewater infrastructure is its responsibility. But the feds aren’t paying for anything over and above the
$26,000,000 they contributed to the new plant.

Paul General, the manager of Six Nations Eco Centre, knows it’s not a perfect world. “So, I think you find the dollars wherever you can find them,” he says.

Montour agrees. He knows better than to rely on the feds for funding, and he’s exploring other possibilities. Public-private partnerships are one. Another is selling treated water from the new plant to native homes bordering the reserve. He’s also considered a water utilities commission to provide water to residents for a fee.

“A lot of people are going to jump all over me — it’s taxes,” he says. “Well, wake up and smell the roses. There’s no great white father coming over the hill with a bag of money anymore.”

Health Canada is responsible for water quality on Canada's First Nations reserves. That includes Six Nations. But the water woes are not limited to them.

Tyendinaga is another community is struggling with water security.

“We’ve got the housing and we’ve got the roads,” says Don Maracle, longtime chief of the Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte. “We just need the water.”

On his reserve, less than 33% of the 1,000 or so homes are on water lines. Like Six Nations, the rest rely on wells or cisterns for drinking water.

60% of Tyendinaga's wells are contaminated, says Maracle. For the last 5 years, Health Canada has issued a boil-water advisory.

“People have polluted wells and there’s not really anything we can do about it,” the chief explains.

The band is, however, trying to help residents access clean drinking water. Homeowners who install purification systems are subsidized for half the cost. And a regulated water delivery service is offered for a fee.

While these initiatives help,  they don’t bring Maracle closer to his long-term plan -- extending water lines to every home on the
7,300-hectare reserve.

For that, he’ll need money and a new
$19,000,000 water plant to be approved by the federal government.

He’s not the only First Nations leader that’s been left hanging.

A 2011 federal government report assessed First Nations water and wastewater systems. It found:

Almost 75% of water systems on the 571 reserves tested posed a high or medium risk to human health. $4,700,000,000 was needed to bring them up to par.
More than 300 systems were classified as high risk. The government committed to improvements for only 72 — a band-aid solution that only addresses part of the problem.

“The study was faulty in that it only looked at water systems, it didn’t look at wells,” says New Democrat MP Jean Crowder. “It didn’t even touch the places where there is no drinking water at all, where water is trucked in.”

“For people to live in Third World conditions right next to a major metropolitan centre — there’s something wrong with that,” says Crowder, the NDP aboriginal affairs critic. “It’s shocking.”

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