Kiiwetinoong MPP’s private members bill seeks to ensure safe drinking water for all Ontarians
Tim Brody - Editor
Kiiwetinoong MPP Sol Mamakwa presented his private members bill, the Inherent Right to Safe Drinking Water Act, May 6 at Queen’s Park.
Mamakwa told those in the legislature that, “lack of access to clean drinking water for First Nations is a profound crisis.”
Ontario has two pieces of legislation that address clean water access for Ontarians, the Safe Drinking Water Act, 2002 and the Clean Water Act, 2006.
“This Bill actually amends the Safe Drinking Water Act 2002 to recognize that the people of Ontario are entitled to expect their drinking water to be safe,” Mamakwa said.
One of the Act’s purposes is to recognize that the people of Ontario are entitled to expect their drinking water to be safe. Mamakwa’s private member’s bill would amend this purpose to specify that Ontarians living and working on reserves have the same entitlement.
Mamakwa said, “Right now, the way the structures are set up, the way the laws are set up, the way the legislations are set up, there seems to be two Ontarios.”
“We should not have two Ontarios: one where clean water is guaranteed, and another where people are forced to live without it,” said Mamakwa, the NDP’s critic for Indigenous and Treaty Relations. “It is time to include all Ontarians, including people living in reserves, in our provincial right to clean drinking water.”
“Can you imagine that, Speaker, being a young person who has never, ever known what it’s like to be able to drink water from the tap? For young people in Neskantaga like Lyndon Sakanee, like Bedahbun Moonias, this is their reality,” Mamakwa told the legislature.
“Imagine living with bathwater that could make your little one sick or tap water that isn’t safe enough to use to make dinner for your family. In many places across Kiiwetinoong and in First Nations across Ontario, this is a reality. We should not have two Ontarios, one where clean water is guaranteed and another Ontario where people are forced to live without,” he told his fellow MPPs.
“Access to safe drinking water has been an issue for First Nations as long as there has been running water. These infrastructure systems were not set up properly, correctly. They have always been underfunded and have always not taken the needs of First Nations into account when they were being designed. Since that time, governments have played jurisdictional Ping-Pong to avoid having to invest in resources and clean, safe water for First Nations. Madam Speaker, this is structural racism. It is racism, period. And all levels of government have not adequately addressed this issue. I see this bill as a starting point for work that needs to be done here in Ontario,” he spoke.
Mamakwa said what his bill seeks to do is require Ontario, in collaboration with any First Nations, to develop regulations to ensure that there is safe, clean, reliable drinking water for Ontarians no matter where they live.
“That’s why I am calling on Doug Ford to support this bill so that his government can work with First Nations to ensure access to safe, clean, and reliable drinking water for all Ontarians wherever they live,” Mamakwa informed.
Mamakwa told the legislature that 25 First Nations in Ontario are under long-term boil-water advisories. Fourteen of these First Nations are in Kiiwetinoong he said. Two other First Nations in the riding are under short-term boil water advisories, he added.
Indigenous Services Canada lists 43 long-term drinking water advisories remaining in 25 communities in Ontario, including several in our area: Bearskin Lake, Deer Lake, Eabametoong, Marten Falls, Mishkeegogamang, Muskrat Dam, Nibinamik, Neskantaga, North Caribou Lake, North Spirit Lake, Ojibway Nation of Saugeen, Sandy Lake, Sachigo Lake, and Wawakapewin.
“Speaker, I stand here and tell you that no one in Neskantaga, no one in Sandy Lake feels safe drinking the water that comes out of the tap. In fact, this has gone on for so long that our First Nation communities normalize the dysfunction. When you live it on a daily basis, it becomes normal and acceptable. Young people grow up without expectation of clean drinking water. It is a privilege to the rest of us in Ontario that we take this for granted,” he stated.
He told his colleagues, “I got an opportunity to spend some time with the evacuees from Neskantaga in October, November and December 2020, when they got evacuated. It is a total failure, and we must do better. I got to attend this rally with these children at one point, in November 2020. If you don’t want to listen to me, take some time to listen to the words of these young people:
Lyndon Sakanee, 12 years old, Neskantaga: “We’re not animals. We’re not things. We’re human just like you.”
Bedahbun Moonias: “I feel like we don’t exist and that nobody would care. We are suffering to get clean water. Go live there; you’ll see how it feels getting no clean water.”
Renita Moonias: “I have two children, who are 1 and 3. It is painful to keep going through this, for me ... and them. I don’t want them to grow up without clean drinking water like me. I don’t want them to have to bathe in the dangerous water back home. They deserve clean water. All the children in Neskantaga deserve clean water.”
Marilyn from Neskantaga: “On January 9, we needed to bathe, so I went to get the water at the water treatment facility with my two youngest children, who are 7 and 9. When we returned, my 7-year-old found her sister in the closet. She had taken her life. Now, my youngest are 11 and 15. I don’t know what answers to give them anymore. The water crisis reminds me every day how I lost my child and will never see her again. We need clean water.”
Neskantaga First Nation Chief Wayne Moonias shared, “Neskantaga First Nation continues to be on a 26 year Boil Water Advisory, the longest in Canada and a distinction that we are not proud of. The fact that both levels of governments continue to ignore these issues with their inaction is a clear violation of our fundamental human rights. Our people deserve better and our people have rights to clean and safe drinking water. As this continues today it is appalling that systemic racial injustice continues on our people. I call on both levels of governments to act and address our basic human right to clean drinking water. There shouldn’t be any debate about this as this has gone far too long.”
Sandy Lake First Nation Chief Delores Kakegamic added, “Sandy Lake has been under a boil water advisory since January 2003. Waiting 18 years is totally unacceptable. Our people deserve the same right to safe clean drinking water as anyone else in Ontario. We call on the government of Ontario to do the right thing and pass Bill 286. We continue the fight for basic human rights like safe drinking water.”
Mamakwa’s bill for safe drinking water for all Ontarians passed second reading vote on May 10.
Mamakwa shared the following statement that day, “This is a good first step for all Ontarians, but we are still far away from First Nations children being able to drink tap water at home in reserves across the province. This government must not sit on this bill and let it wither away. It must take action to pass the bill and start the work needed to ensure that all families in Ontario can finally have access to safe drinking water, including Indigenous families.”
The Ontario NDP shared that, “Mamakwa’s bill moves to committee but the Ford government has not provided a date on when it will call up the bill for further examination.”