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Unmasking Decades of Injustice: Fighting for Clean Water in Attawapiskat First Nation

Guest blog by Charles Hookimaw, Member of Attawapiskat First Nation

For over two decades, Attawapiskat First Nation (AttFN) has grappled with a profound denial of a basic human right – access to clean water. Despite the Federal Government of Canada's exclusive jurisdiction over on-reserve water systems, members of AttFN, myself included, persistently face the denial of potable water. This not only jeopardizes our health but also stands as a blatant violation of international human rights.

In my pursuit of justice, I have filed a complaint with the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), shedding light on Canada's persistent and egregious violations of our fundamental rights to safe drinking water and sanitation. This complaint unravels a distressing and enduring pattern of human rights abuses within my community, demanding urgent international attention.

Photo Credit: Charles Hookimaw

Beyond the legal dimensions, the human cost of this prolonged issue cannot be overstated. The denial of safe drinking water for more than two decades has tangible and severe consequences. As a result, myself and other members of AttFN are at an increased risk of developing lupus; autism; bladder, colon and rectal cancers; as well as adverse reproductive and developmental effects. I have witnessed the deteriorating health conditions of those in my family and community, resulting from the unsafe water , and being unable to access potable water for all uses, including cooking, cleaning, bathing and personal hygiene. The failure to provide access to potable water also denies us the right to perform and partake in traditional practices and ceremonies that require potable water, such as cooking traditional foods.

In addition to the health risks, community members must walk to access clean drinking water from a reverse osmosis treatment system, further exacerbating the challenges we face. It goes beyond a violation on paper; it is a daily struggle for a basic necessity that many take for granted.

Photo Credit: Charles Hookimaw

The nexus between clean water access in First Nations and environmental justice is deeply embedded in historical, social, and environmental factors. Addressing this connection requires comprehensive efforts, including policy reforms, infrastructure investments, acknowledgment of Indigenous rights, and genuine engagement with affected communities.

My plea to the UNHRC is a call for recognition of the Government of Canada's failure in ensuring AttFN members have access to potable water of sufficient quality and quantity. The international body's intervention is urgently needed to spur immediate corrective measures against this injustice.

As the UNHRC takes up this crucial complaint, there is a glimmer of hope for accountability and justice.

(AEL Advocacy has been retained to represent the complainant in this matter)


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