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Coalition of First Nations launches legal and political campaign to confirm human right to safe drinking water

October 22, 2019  By Ground Water Canada

Kelowna, B.C. – A group of First Nations in British Columbia are launching a co-ordinated campaign to confirm First Nations’ right to safe drinking water.

“Unsafe drinking water is a growing problem on First Nations right across Canada,” said Chief Byron Louis of the Okanagan Indian Band in a news release. “Aging and inadequate infrastructure coupled with an unwillingness by the federal government to spend the infrastructure dollars needed to fix the problem has left more and more communities with unsafe drinking water. Canada supported a United Nations resolution in 2010 recognizing the right to safe and clean drinking water as a human right that is essential to the full enjoyment of life and all human rights. But all this posturing at the UN has not translated into action at home.”

Ermineskin Cree Nation, Sucker Creek First Nation and two other Alberta First Nations commenced an action in federal court in 2014 seeking confirmation of the right to safe drinking water, the release said. That action was stayed (put on hold) as the parties entered negotiations. But after more years of inaction by the federal government the Alberta First Nations decided to lift the stay and proceed with the litigation. The Okanagan Indian Band, near Vernon, B.C., commenced a similar legal action on August 15, 2019. The First Nations recently met to discuss coordination of the legal actions and related efforts. Ermineskin Cree Nation will also be presenting to the Assembly of First Nations Water Symposium in late November, following the federal election, to encourage other First Nations across Canada to push for recognition of the First Nations’ human right to safe drinking water, including new legal actions across the country.


Chief Craig Makinaw of the Ermineskin Cree Nation stated: “The federal government has been able to get away with things because each First Nation has been trying to address this alone. We intend to build a legal and political movement of First Nations and other Canadians to support confirmation of the human right to safe drinking water of First Nations and, of course all Canadians. Coordination on our law suits is only a first step.” Chief Byron Louis of the Okanagan Indian Band added “We decided to reach out to the Alberta First Nations (suing Canada) because it’s time for First Nations to stand together on this fundamental issue. We should live in a country where the water is safe coming out of the tap, whether you are in an Indigenous community or the city or town next door.”

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