C/O Yoohyun Park
Concerns raised surrounding clean drinking water access in Indigenous communities
At the beginning of October, Iqaluit residents began noticing an odour in their tap water and some expressed feeling ill. After an initial inspection of the treatment plant and water samples on Oct. 4, the city of Iqaluit determined that the water was safe to drink. However, a second investigation on Oct. 12 yielded different results.
Since Oct. 12, Iqaluit has been under a state of emergency and residents have been advised not to drink tap water, even after boiling or filtering it, due to a presence of fuel in the water supply.
On Oct. 24, the Canadian Armed Forces arrived in Iqaluit to set up a reverse osmosis water purification system. The CAF is purifying water from Iqaluit’s Sylvia Grinnell River and transporting it to a city water truck, which then transports it to water filling depots.
Until the arrival of the CAF, residents were receiving bottled water from distribution sites and collecting water from the Sylvia Grinnell River.
While the CAF is providing residents with potable water, trucked water deliveries in Iqaluit will no longer contain potable water as of Tuesday, Nov. 9. While residents can still use trucked water deliveries for bathing, laundry, handwashing and dishwashing, they are no longer able to drink it.
The state of emergency in Iqaluit is currently set to last until Nov. 23.
At McMaster University, Makasa Looking Horse is actively involved in projects that address water needs for Indigenous communities. One such project is the Global Water Futures project, which Looking Horse is the educational lead for.
Global Water Futures is a Canadian university-led research project aiming to manage water futures in areas with cold climates, such as Canada, and landscapes changing due to global warming.
“Global Water Futures aims to position Canada as a global leader in water science for cold regions and will address the strategic needs of the Canadian economy in adapting to change and managing risks of uncertain water futures and extreme events,” stated the Global Water Futures website.
Looking Horse highlighted that water crises in Indigenous communities are not uncommon and that they can happen for a multitude of reasons. She explained that water crises occur when there are problems with treatment plants and when there are problems piping water from treatment plants to households.
“Infrastructure within Canada for Indigenous communities is in really bad shape,” said Looking Horse.
In 2015, 126 drinking water advisories existed in First Nations, prompting the federal government to commit to resolving them by March of 2021. However, inadequate funding was allocated to meeting this goal and many advisories remain in effect. Water-borne diseases occur within First Nations 26 times more than the national average and people living on reserves are currently 90 times more likely to have no access to running water compared to non-Indigenous people living off reserves.
On Nov. 3, the Cooperative Indigenous Students Studies and Alumni at McMaster shared a post about the Iqaluit water crisis and noted how the federal government has not kept their promise to eliminate water advisories in Indigenous communities.
Mainly, CISSA referred to the fact that 58 advisories still remain despite prime minister Justin Trudeau’s promise to eliminate all long-term boil water advisories by March of 2021.
“It has become abundantly clear that one cannot disentangle social conditions from health conditions and that the causes of recurrent Indigenous water insecurity are rooted in sociopolitical neglect. The lack of access to clean, safe water is a reflection of long standing political and economic marginalization,” stated CISSA in their post.
For McMaster students, Looking Horse noted that there are always ways to help make clean water more accessible in general.
“Whether it’s donating water to the food bank or cleaning up [garbage], whatever you want to work on, whether that’s writing or doing something physical, you can definitely do something to make a difference,” said Looking Horse.
Looking Horse has extensive experience protecting access to water for Indigenous communities. Beyond her role in Global Water Futures, she did a lot of advocacy work to protect the Six Nations water supply when she found out that Nestle was taking 3.6 million litres of water from the Six Nations aquifer without the community’s permission.
Within Global Water Futures, Looking Horse has been part of multiple community projects, such as tracking snapping turtles on Six Nations to collect more data about the environment.
“This kind of project really hasn’t hasn’t existed before and so we’re super proud [of it]. It’s a water project on Six Nations that all of these different professors at McMaster University and other universities and different departments are working [on] together,” said Looking Horse.
The water crisis continues to be a significant issue in Iqaluit and across Indigenous communities, with many long-term water advisories still in effect and goals to resolve them not being met. McMaster students interested in taking action can refer to CISSA’s social media posts with more information on petitions to sign and links where donations can be made.