SIX NATIONS – A fundamental legislative change in the regulation of Six Nations drinking water treatment and supply may have far reaching First Nations sovereignty implications. The Federal Safe Drinking Water for First Nations Act, formerly known as Bill S-8, has been in force since November 1, 2013, and was purportedly enacted because the Constitution Act 1867 has so far prevented the legislative regulation of drinking water safety for First Nations by Provincial authorities. This Act now allows the Federal Government to allocate liability for drinking water and wastewater system management and ownership to Six Nations, through a series of generalized regulations.
The Act, as a framework of regulations, is prefaced by the disclaimer that, “nothing in this Act or the regulations is to be construed so as to abrogate or derogate from any existing Aboriginal or treaty rights of the Aboriginal peoples of Canada”, with the notable the exception that abrogation of these rights may occur “to the extent necessary to ensure the safety of drinking water on First Nation lands.”
Whereas prior to these regulations, Six Nations apparently had no legal obligation to follow Canadian guidelines, or Provincial water quality laws, there now exists a definitive regimen, which includes the possibility of serious personal liability, such as imprisonment, should the regulations be contravened.
Compliance with the Act is apparently ensured by giving “any person or body” legislative, judicial, administrative or “other” powers to, for example, audit the books of the new Six Nations water treatment system, apply for a search warrant, and to seize and detain “things found in the exercise of that power.”
Federal authorities, may also delegate powers to management “independent of the First Nation to operate a drinking water system”, and may choose “any person” as the owner of the system. Absent from the Act is any mention of funding to assist First Nations with compliance with these regulations.
Chief Charles Weaselhead of the Blood Tribe summarized his concern last year to a committee hearing on the Act, “By transferring the liability to the first nations, Bill S-8 absolves the federal and provincial governments of liability.”