Dear Ms. Tauli-Corpus:
My name is Rod Whitlow. I am a seventh-generation grandson of Haudenosaunee Pine Tree Chief, Thayendanegea, (Captain Joseph Brant). I am a member of the Kanien’kehá:ka and citizen of the Six Nations Indian reserve near Brant’s Ford, Ontario, Canada.
On this day, Human Rights Day 2017, I respectfully bring your attention to the water crisis in my home community, Six Nations Indian reserve. Despite being situated in the heart of the largest freshwater basin in the world, that being the Great Lakes, the majority of households in Canada’s largest First Nations community encounter third world conditions when it comes to access to clean potable drinking water. The vast majority of homes rely on dug wells which go dry throughout the year. Warmer summers and dryer winters have become the norm and climate change predictions signal a dire future when it comes to water security. Many households must rely on trucked water year-round to fill dry wells and cisterns. Still other households rely on untreated rainwater to fill cisterns to flush toilets, and sadly to bath. Many families in the community have spent a lifetime of hardship when it comes to access to water, a basic human right. Sadly, water poverty has become a way of life. The politicians are quick to refer a state of the art water treatment plant which takes water from the Grand River and pipes potable treated water to a very small portion of community homes, only those located in the village of Ohsweken.
Between 2015 and 2016, Human Rights Watch (HRW) conducted a study primarily specific to water quality issues in 5 Ontario First Nations. Six Nations was one of the communities. The study examined poor water quality impacts to health, hygiene, sanitation, at-risk cohorts, caregivers, low-come families, culture, and housing. The 2016 HRW Report, “Make it Safe: Canada’s Obligation to End the First Nations Water Crisis”, is available on-line. So, while the focus of this and other studies has been on water quality, long-standing water quantity issues are rarely discussed.
The government of Ontario continues to allow commercial water bottling companies, some with an expired permit, to draw millions of litres of groundwater across Ontario. Further, the province conveniently renewed bulk water-taking permits to multi-national, conglomerate, commercial, for profit, water companies before implementing a two (2) year moratorium, (with but one year remaining). Ontario has been forthright about scientific, hydro-geological, climatic uncertainty, yet their water permit policies continue to allow for groundwater exploitation. One of these commercial companies continues to operate within the Grand River watershed, thereby impacting the water rights of the Six Nations people, as per the Haldimand Deed of 1784.
The UN Human Rights Council Resolution 15/9 of September 2010 states that the right to sanitation entitles everyone, without discrimination, to “have physical and affordable access to sanitation, in all spheres of life, that is safe, hygienic, secure, and socially and culturally acceptable and that provides privacy and ensures dignity.” As with the right to water, the right to sanitation is derived from the right to an adequate standard of living.
As such, it is UNACCEPTABLE that generations of residents of Six Nations have had to endure health, hygienic, sanitation, socio-cultural and economic hardships relating to water security that other mainstream societies in Ontario have never had to encounter. In the 2002 Walkerton Inquiry Report, Chapter 15, Part II, Justice O’Connor stated,
“There is no justification for permitting lower public health standards for some residents of Ontario than those enjoyed by others. Members of First Nations are also residents of Ontario. There can be no justification for acquiescing in the application of a lesser public health standard on certain residents of Ontario than that enjoyed by others in the province. This is especially true when there is ample evidence that the water provided in First Nations communities falls well short of the standards of safety and adequacy that are considered acceptable in other parts of the province.
So sadly, 15 years later, the struggle continues. The community is no closer to a barrier-free solution for equal access for all residents to the basic human needs for water. The pursuit of equality, justice, righteousness and survival marches on. Nia-wen kowa to the United Nations, Human Rights Watch and other environmental justice groups for support and solidarity in keeping the global, regional and local water security crisis realities faced by Indigenous communities in the forefront of all local, regional and international discussions.
In peace and friendship, skennen