“A $20 bill may feed us a meal, but it will never sustain us,” said a panelist at the Assembly of First Nations Water Symposium, which gathered close to 500 Indigenous water guardians, technicians, government officials and allies. Our Living Waters was on hand to listen and learn from the priorities and discussions at the gathering.
A recurring theme, as the panelist quoted above suggests, focused on building the long-term capacity of Indigenous communities to engage in and solve water challenges themselves. A panel on women and water highlighted this from a technical point of view, stating politicians, companies and non-governmental organizations all want to ‘help solve the crisis of water in First Nations communities’. But, all the panelists emphasized that First Nations should be leading the collaborative efforts. Solving First Nation’s drinking water problems has to be about more than outside organizations knocking on doors selling the latest technological fixes. Rather, Nations need to be engaged as leaders on what solutions are required, and then supported to solve the problems and more importantly, to sustain the solutions now and into the future.
Also, a big focus at the Symposium was the Safe Drinking Water for First Nations Act. The Act received almost unanimous condemnation by the crowd. Though the criticisms of the Act itself run deep, it’s the process of the legislation’s creation that tops the long list of priority actions. It may best be framed in the words of AFN staff member Irving Leblanc, “Nothing about us, without us.” Drafting legislation about First Nations with inadequate input is beyond insufficient. The legislation, at the very least, should be co-drafted by diverse representation of Canada’s First Nations communities. Check out these documents for more on AFNs analysis of the Act: SDWFN Preliminary Concepts; Water Legislative Reform 2019-2020.
This led to some of my own reflections on how we, as a majority settler base, can do better at allying ourselves with First Nations water concerns. There is certainly overlap in OLW Network priorities to those I heard at the symposium, so the content of what we are concerned about align. However, our priorities and our strategies for implementing priority actions needs to be co-defined with our indigenous partners and allies. And that’s going to take resources, capacity and patience to learn alongside each other. Reconciliation starts at home and in each of our respective organizations.