“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.
In 2018, we were excited to launch our second round of grants under the Our Living Waters 2030 Fund. In total $97,000 were distributed to Our Living Waters member groups to collaboratively advance progress on at least one of our 24 impact measures. Priorities for the fund were established directly by our members through an annual survey which helps us align member focus across our impact measures given limited funding dollars. (Not an OLW Network member yet? Sign up here).
It’s amazing what a little bit can do! With these funds, Our Living Waters Network members are now working towards the following inspiring outcomes:
- Positioning fresh water as a priority issue in the lead up to the federal election;
- Working toward renewal of the Canada Water Act with Indigenous and non-indigenous partners;
- Advancing the launch of data hubs in the Columbia, Atlantic and Lake Winnipeg regions;
- Providing tools and support for communities to address sewage problems in their watershed;
- Working with 18 communities across Canada to advance adoption of transformative green infrastructure programs;
- Supporting indigenous representation at the 2018 Living Waters Rally; and
- Helping support 75 water leaders attend a national community based monitoring round-table in Ottawa to advance federal support for citizen science initiatives.
Want to read about the fantastic accomplishments Network members have already made with 2017 grants from the OLW 2030 Fund? Check out these impact stories and be ready to be inspired!
These stories all highlight that together we can make a difference. Thank you to all members of the freshwater community for doing what you do!
Bill C-68, which will modernize Canada’s Fisheries Act, is in the final, critical stages of the legislative process. After three years of public engagement, consultation with diverse stakeholders and interests, and deliberation by elected officials, we have a strong bill that goes a long way to delivering on the mandate issued by the Prime Minister to the Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard to “restore lost protections and introduce modern safeguards” to the Fisheries Act.
Soon to be under review by the Senate Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans, Bill C-68 introduces the most progressive changes to Canada’s Fisheries Act in half a century. In anticipation of the review, a group of over 20 environmental and conservation organizations from across the country submitted a brief to the Senate Committee to share our key interests and concerns, and - most importantly - to urge the Committee to undertake its work as quickly as possible. The clock is ticking down on this Parliament and it is critical that policy makers in Ottawa deliver on this unprecedented opportunity to modernize one of Canada’s oldest and most important environmental laws.
Our brief, titled Sustaining healthy fisheries, waters and economies, proposes minor amendments to strengthen provisions dealing with rebuilding of depleted fish stocks and improving habitat banking. But the main focus is on defending one of the most important modernizations in the Bill: addition of the “quantity, timing and quality of water flows” – what we in the freshwater community know as environmental flows – to the definition of fish habitat. Some industry and agricultural organizations are calling for this change to be removed from the Bill, arguing that it will mean that municipal water pipes, rainwater running off of city streets or farm fields, or even puddles, may now be designated as fish habitat. This is not what the science of environmental flows entails, nor is it the intent of the updates to the law. The changes simply reflect what we have long understood: fish live in a three-dimensional world, and cannot use a spawning habitat or feeding ground if it is not covered with the right amount of clean water at the right time of year.
We expect the Senate Committee to begin hearings on Bill C-68 in early April. That leaves only three short months for Senators and MPs to work together to get the legislation to the finish line before the Parliament rises in June for the last time before the fall election.