STILL: Running water remains a dream for most on Six
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
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
“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.
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
wells are typically safer, since
they draw water from deeper in the water
At Six Nations, contamination in both
types of wells is widespread.
• 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
• Salt storage facilities
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
• Anyone peddling bottled water,
including convenience stores, gas
stations and grocery stores
Many are accountable for
providing drinking water on First
Nations. Here’s how responsibility
• Own, manage, operate and monitor
water and wastewater services
• Design and construct facilities
• Issue drinking water advisories
Aboriginal Affairs and Northern
• Advise and fund design, construction,
operation and maintenance of water and
• Review designs with Health Canada and
• Set standards through protocols
• Fund training for water plant
operators and staff
• Establish monitoring programs and
help First Nations identify potential
problems with drinking water quality
• Advise, guide, and offer safety
recommendations about drinking water and
• Advise and offer guidance on source
water protection and sustainable water
• Regulate treatment of wastewater
discharged to water
“We used to have real good water when we were kids,”
says band Chief Bill Montour. “But over the years,
Well water poses the biggest risk.
86% of the wells
are contaminated, and a boil-water advisory has been
in effect for over 10
“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
and push drinkable water to
homes in Ohsweken already on
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
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 $120,000,000.
Another problem is the community’s existing
wastewater system. It can't handle and expanded
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
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
1,000 or so
homes are on water lines. Like Six Nations, the rest
rely on wells or cisterns for drinking water.
Almost 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
For that, he’ll need money and a new
water plant to be approved by the federal
He’s not the only First Nations leader that’s been
A 2011 federal government report assessed First
Nations water and wastewater systems. It found:
Almost 75% of water systems on the
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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