Long-awaited new First Nations safe drinking water bill tabled in Ottawa

Bill C-61
Patty Hajdu said the legislation is also expected to lead to the application of minimum standards for clean drinking water in every First Nation, and lay the groundwork for the creation of a First Nation-led water commission to support communities. Photo Courtesy of Patty Hajdu / Twitter

Several First Nations chiefs have announced that they look forward to providing committee testimony to refine a new safe drinking water and wastewater bill introduced in the House of Commons.

Atlantic leaders such as Chief Bob Gloade expressed support for Bill C-61 and the opportunity to finally have a detailed framework to guide processes around First Nations water infrastructure.

“The proposed legislation is a great start and a unique opportunity for First Nations to take control of a service critical to the social, economic, and environmental well-being of our communities,” announced Chief Gloade, who is also Co-Chair of the Atlantic Policy Congress of First Nations Chiefs Secretariat.

Canada’s Minister of Indigenous Services, Patty Hajdu, introduced the bill on December 11, more than a year after the government repealed the 2013 Safe Drinking Water for First Nations Act, which was heavily criticized by many Indigenous communities. 

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Hajdu explained that 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. 

The draft bill states that First Nations persons must “receive water services comparable to those received by persons in non-Indigenous communities.”

“Created with First Nations, this legislation is the foundation of clean and safe drinking water for generations to come,” Hajdu announced when tabling the bill. “It establishes the rights and supports that should have always been there for First Nations. It creates the tools First Nations need to manage their water systems and ensure the water they draw from is safe.”

Hajdu said the legislation is also expected to lead to the application of minimum standards for clean drinking water in every First Nation, and lay the groundwork for the creation of a First Nations-led water commission to support communities.

The draft bill states that the commission could, in part, be responsible for “providing advice to First Nations in relation to drinking water and wastewater, including by obtaining legal advice and coordinating its provision to First Nations.”

The new legislation, called the First Nations Clean Water Act, was also part of the terms of the $8 billion drinking water class action settlement for First Nations in December 2021.

Hajdu told the House of Commons that all First Nations were provided with a draft of the legislation, as well as the amendments that arose during community consultations.

“Today is an important beginning,” announced Cowessess First Nation Chief Erica Beaudin in Saskatchewan. “The First Nations Clean Water Act will hold this, and every future government, accountable to implementing and upholding First Nations’ inherent and treaty rights to water. We will use the tools in this legislation to protect the water as keepers of the lands and resources for all the generations to come.”

There are currently 28 long-term drinking water advisories across 26 reserve systems in Canada, according to federal monitoring. The federal government has lifted 143 drinking water advisories in First Nations since 2015. 

First Nations organizations are encouraged to engage in the development of the new bill and contact proprepnh2o-cleanfnh2o@sac-isc.gc.ca.

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