The new bill aims to address and prevent First Nations water infrastructure gaps and build a sustainable foundation for future generations Photo by Alyssa Bardy
On December 11th, 2023, Patty Hajdu — minister of Indigenous services — introduced a new proposed legislation update on water management in First Nations communities.
Bill C-61 – An Act respecting water, source water, drinking water, wastewater and related infrastructure on First Nation lands was made in consultation with First Nations, claims Hajdu. Many chiefs have already expressed concerns over funding and how the bill will work in practice. Others are skeptical about the consultation process and say that the legal powers and water authorities should exist within First Nation communities. Chief Chris Moonias of Neskantaga First Nation — the community with the longest drinking water advisory in Canada, said he wasn’t consulted. Neskantaga has been under the advisory for 28 years and counting.
One key element to the Bill is a commitment on behalf of the federal government to support the creation of a First Nations Water Commission that would allow First Nations to have greater control over drinking and waste water services on FN lands.
The First Nations battle for protected access to clean, safe water has been long and fraught with emotional, physical, spiritual, and mental health tribulations. Although former Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservative government enacted the Safe Drinking Water for First Nations Act in 2013, several issues — including a lack of consultation with First Nations — made the Act ineffective.
In 2021, the same year the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act received Royal Assent, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government announced the decision to repeal the problematic 2013 Safe Drinking Water for First Nations Act and develop new legislation.
If passed, the long-awaited Bill C-61 “would affirm the inherent right of First Nations to self-government” and “hold the federal government accountable to continued funding investments in water infrastructure,” says Indigenous Services Canada.
The details of the bill are not yet public, but progress can be monitored on the Parliament of Canada website.