Federal regulation of Six Nations drinking water now in effect

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.”

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  1. If anybody wants to know more about the drinking water treatment plant and distribution system operation, drinking water testing and notification procedures on the Six Nations of the Grand River reserve, he or she should talk to Mr. Steve Lickers who is in charge of the water treatment plant operation on that reserve. He is very knowledgeable.

    1. Garry it only service a portion of the community. I have a well just for bathing and washing. Buy bottled water for drinking.

  2. That’s interesting. I’m sure First Nations people on Indian reserves want to be protected and want clean, potable water from their community drinking water treatment facilities and distribution systems. I’m sure the Canadian federal government wants to make people on Indian reserves get clean, potable water from their community drinking water treatment facilities and distribution systems.

    But how far do those regulations associated with the new Federal Safe Drinking Water for First Nations Act go?

    People on Indian reserves who get their drinking water from wells for example and who might supply that water to family, friends and visitors should make sure their drinking water is free from E. coli and other coliform bacteria and they should make sure their well water meets the Federal Drinking Water Guidelines.

    Do the new federal Act and drinking water regulations also apply to individual homes with wells and place them in jeopardy or do the federal Act and regulations only apply to community drinking water operations and supplies? Is there anything in the law or regulations to specify or exclude private homes?

    Of course, it does raise questions about self-government on Indian reserves but it also raises some other questions.

    What would natives on Indian reserves have done without the new Federal Federal Safe Drinking Water for First Nations Act? Would they have set up their own regulations themselves on their reserves with stiff penalties for non compliance?

    If the federal government wants people on First Nations reserves to follow the Federal Safe Drinking Water for First Nations Act, will the federal government fund the reserves properly so the people on the reserves can meet and maintain compliance?

    Who will inspect the water treatment facilities and distributions systems on reserves, the laboratories, the reporting systems and all of the other components of the operations to make sure they are maintained in compliance with the Act and regulations?

    1. Here is something else to think about.

      The Federal Canadian Drinking Water Guidelines apply across Canada in all provinces and territories. Provinces and territories can establish their own drinking water guidelines or laws that are equally or more stringent than the Canadian Drinking Water guidelines but must meet the Canadian Drinking Water Guidelines where a province or territory does not have its own guidelines or laws.

      The federal government has now passed the Federal Safe Drinking Water for First Nations Act that First Nations people must follow by law but has the federal government passed an Act and made it law for non natives outside of Indian reserves in all communities in all provinces and territories across Canada to at minimum comply with the Canadian Drinking Water Guidelines?

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