BC Okanagan Indian Band suing feds over drinking water ‘failure’


British Columbia’s Okanagan Indian Band is suing the federal government over what it alleges to be a “failure to ensure the safety of drinking water.”

The Vernon-based Band claims that after nine years of collaboration with the federal government, there have been upgrades to just one of seven water systems.

Okanagan Chief Byron Louis claimed “the federal government has put the lives of our people at risk.”

In a statement to media, Chief Louis added: “We have lost faith in a system that I would characterize as negligent. We are stuck in limbo between federal policy that underfunds our system and provincial infrastructure resources we cannot access. The federal government is simply not serious about safe drinking water for First Nations communities.”

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The Okanagan Indian Band alleges that its water systems rely entirely on groundwater wells that supply untreated water to hundreds of homes. It states that the wastewater from those homes goes to individual septic fields that may be contaminating groundwater. The chief cites but does not provide a link to a 2010 report that he says found potential risk to human health from the reserve’s water systems.

Global News has posted a link to the Okanagan Indian Band’s Statement of Claim.

In an interview with CBC News, federal Indigenous Services Minister Seamus O’Regan said he was “surprised” by the chief’s comments, noting it was the first time he’d been made aware of the water issues raised. O’Regan added that he is aware of six on-reserve water systems and that five are certified as safe to drink from. The sixth had been deemed “high-risk” due to unacceptable levels of manganese, but the First Nations Health Authority addressed the problem and certification for the final water system is coming “very soon,” he told CBC News.

Eighty-seven water quality advisories have been lifted since 2015, according to the Indigenous Services Canada website. Fifty-six remain in place.


  1. Many groundwater wells in the Okanagan are contaminated with high levels of radon, due to the uranium rich geology and hydrology in the region. Radon is a class A carcinogen and is soluble in groundwater, when the water enters the home it will off – gas radon, when showers, faucets, toilets are used. Inhalation of radon is the leading cause of lung cancer in non smokers and ingestion of radon has been linked to other forms of cancer, such as stomach cancer. It is important to test well water for radon !

  2. Dear Alan Whitehead: Please the book ” A Radioactive Waste Dump in Malvern. A Citizen’s Account which describes in chronological order radium in Canada and the subsequent legal action that wrote case law in Canada as it applies to waste on/in land. You can rest assured that your local library will have many fiction copies to 50 Shades of Grey. Secret Loves of Geek Girls and I Hear She’s a Real B++++ by Jenn Agg which is writing by omission.

    I almost forget- check your local library holdings for ” A Poison Stronger that Love” and “No Right of Way by Peter Lewington.


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