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‘Not true reconciliation:’ FSIN reacts to federal bill on water

December 11, 2023

The federal government claims Bill C-61 was developed through extensive engagement that put First Nations voices at the forefront, but the FSIN does not agree. (980 CJME file photo)

CBC Indigenous: North East Now: CKOM – The Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations (FSIN) is not impressed with new federal legislation on clean water.

The Canadian government announced Bill C-61, the proposed First Nations Clean Water Act. The goal is to ensure First Nations have clean drinking water for generations to come.

But in a statement, the FSIN said the bill completely misses the mark. “As it stands, the federal water act announced today is not true reconciliation, it is an attempt to legalize the status quo,” FSIN Chief Bobby Cameron said in a release.

In the statement, the FSIN welcome the proposed bill, but said it does not sufficiently outline how it will prevent future crises. It goes on to say the bill also does not properly address fundamental questions about the nature of Canada’s relationship with First Nations.

According to Ottawa, the bill would recognize and affirm the right of First Nations to self-governance in relation to water, source water, drinking water, wastewater and related infrastructure on First Nations lands.


Some of the goals include protecting freshwater sources, creating a national drinking water and wastewater standard, and providing sufficient funding for maintaining water quality.

The bill is aligned with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Ottawa claims the legislation was developed through “comprehensive engagement that put First Nation voices at the forefront.” But the FSIN doesn’t see it that way.

Its statement said “the proposed water and wastewater act announced today is a replacement for the 2013 Safe Drinking Water for First Nations Act,” and “was supposed to be co-developed by First Nations and Canada under the terms of the settlement agreement reached in 2021 as part of a national class-action lawsuit on long-term drinking water advisories on reserve.”

“Nevertheless, the first public draft released by Canada in February was developed in secret by Indigenous Services Canada without any direct input from First Nations, a fact that has been raised by the Assembly of First Nations and several regional First Nations organizations over the course of 2023,” the statement added.

In the statement, Cameron said clean drinking water has been a problem for First Nations for decades.

“It is good that Canada has finally decided to extend basic drinking water protections under law to First Nations,” Cameron said in the statement.

“For decades, on-reserve drinking water has been a policy issue which has allowed successive governments to chronically underfund our communities, which is the direct cause of the crisis that has impacted the health of so many of our people.”

He said that under the bill, First Nations will continue to negotiate for basic needs, like clean drinking water. The statement outlines that previous negotiations over source water in Canada have ended in hierarchical arrangements with colonial views that undermine First Nations sovereignty.

Cameron said that the bill is another form of government control. “Underneath the surface it is another attempt to place our rights under Canadian law instead of being based in a respectful nation-to-nation relationship,” Cameron said. The Canadian government said its commitment to sustainable access to clean and safe drinking water in First Nations communities does not end with the introduction of this bill.

The government said it will continue to work with First Nations to ensure safe drinking water is accessible now and for future generations.

by CKOM News Staff