By Lyle Hill
With election season in full swing and with the Federal election for Canada’s next Prime Minister on the horizon I thought I would share with you a concern.
I understand the problems associated with voting in Canadian elections and trust me, this is not an attempt on my part to encourage you to vote. Indigenous issues has been a hot topic in the debates among the Canadian party leaders and while the debates around these issues have been… spotty? Nevertheless, Indigenous leaders and influencers from across the nation have been voicing their criticisms and their supports for their favourite party leaders.
Jagmeet Singh. The New Democratic Party leader has captured Indigenous support with his bold claims for steps toward reconciliation. His boldest claim yet, and the promise I would like to focus on here, is the promise to fix the issue of contaminated water in Indigenous communities.
Now let me preface this with an acknowledgement. I agree and I would assume a majority of the population would agree that any community struggling to live with contaminated water deserves to have that stress relieved. What I am saying is that giving clean water to a community is a good thing and I would like to think that most people would agree with that. So with that in mind I want to ask the question that needs to be asked, how?
Look. I’ve read the tweets. “How?! What do you mean how?? If this were any other community Canada wouldn’t ask how, they would ask how soon can we fix this problem?”
Again, I do not think that is the issue. I believe that most people would agree that every community deserves clean water. But the question is still imperative. How?
How do you plan to solve this problem? Jagmeet Singh has promised a blank cheque.
When I read that statement I cringed.
A quick scroll down through the Indigenous Twitter-verse confirmed my fears.
So before you take to celebration let’s take a moment of pause. Let’s really consider what Singh is promising but before we get to that we must also understand one more thing.
We, as the people of Six Nations of the Grand River, must acknowledge that we are privileged in regards to most other Indigenous communities. That is not to say that we also do not have our issues with water and hydro but in most cases our issues with the services of our community are not based on needs but convenience.
We have the privilege to argue, debate and disagree with leadership. We have the privilege to complain that our roads need to be fixed. We have the privilege to ask if we could be doing better. And that is not something other reserves do not have the privilege to do. They must ask when and if their services necessary for survival will occur.
With that being said I understand the outcry of relief and support for Singh’s promise to bring clean water to remote Indigenous communities. Because they need it.
But. Need, even desperate need, does not answer the question of how.
You can run yourself in circles with the logic.
The problem is with the logistics. Just consider the parameters. The area is remote and cannot be accessed to any existing system to supply clean water. Therefore a new system must be built to service the area. The area is a barren rock susceptible to intense cold temperatures surrounded by water poisoned by mercury. You could apply chlorine to the water but the amount of chlorine needed to clean out the amount of mercury would render the water poisonous from chlorine so that’s a dead end. So an entirely new system must be invented or innovated to survive in the environment for these communities. That’s right it must be invented and then duplicated or altered for each individual community. Again, invent a new system that filters water in a way that does not exist yet and can operate in extreme cold.
Do innovative water systems exist? Of course.
But Singh’s promise would require years of research and development, deployment, operation and sustainability. Billions of dollars. And here we go.
Yes, I understand that money should not be an issue here. Yes, I understand Canada still owes Indigenous people billions of dollars for a number of reasons. But on that note we all know that they never intended to keep those agreements and would never save money to pay out on an agreement they never meant to keep.
But the money has to come from somewhere. And it is going to come from Canadians. Or it’s money that could be going towards Canadians.
I can feel your frustration from that statement but let me explain.
That frustration you felt (and are feeling) is being felt and will be felt by every Canadian who has to read that billions of dollars every year to give to Indigenous communities (not their own communities). And right there is my point. If Singh had given us a plan for solving the problem I would feel different. If Singh had said this is what we’re going to do and this is why it is going to work, at least we would have something to sink our teeth into before we blew a billion dollars.
So what am I getting at? Singh is going to throw money at this problem until it’s solved and at this point it looks incredibly difficult to solve. So what? So it might not get solved in Singh’s four years of being Prime Minister (getting ahead of ourselves) and that could be a problem. What if Singh can’t fix the problem in four years. What if Singh spends billions of dollars with nothing to show for it. We would say thanks for trying. But look at it from a Canadian’s point of view. Billions of dollars and not one community has a self-sustaining clean water system.
Singh would get tossed aside at the next election and any party who campaigns for Indigenous issues gets the lowest votes in history. Indigenous people would get blamed for the National deficit, the next recession and higher taxes. Are any of these claims factual? Of course not but that will not matter. Canada spent billions on Indigenous people and are billions of dollars in debt, that will be the story.
And then what? Well let’s not think about that. Let’s focus on right now. So Singh’s plan is wrong but why? Well it’s not a new reason but it’s colonial ignorance.
Why can’t these remote communities have access to clean water? Well the reason is because they’re so remote! Seems obvious but my favourite Twitter comments are those people who realize this but finish their comment with “They can’t expect to live in these areas and enjoy the same luxuries as the rest of us”.
Wow. Colonial Ignorance. Not one Indigenous community picked their reserve. The reserves were picked by the Federal government for the purpose of being so difficult to cultivate. Difficult to grow crops, access water and access settlements.
I’m not saying Singh is playing a sick joke on Indigenous people but it is really ignorant of him or anyone to say that they want to solve the water problem on reserves by spending money. Honestly they will more than likely just cause more harm to the environment but again, lets not go there.
The return of lands to Indigenous communities is the ideal, right and just action for Indigenous people to flourish once again. But no one is talking about that, at least no non-Indigenous people are talking about that.
So for right now it is too dangerous for Indigenous people to rally behind an irresponsible cry for action. An action that could end in two ways. Success and failure.
Success means that Indigenous communities get access to clean water and who cares about that? Indigenous people and that’s it. Nothing else changes, taxes probably go up but at least you can point to the water systems and Canadians can say that they did that and probably live with it.
Failure means that a billion dollar budget is spent with zero results and the cause? Indigenous people. Taxes go up, Canadians complain and funding for services goes down.
Again, Six Nations might be able to take that hit or at least last longer than those smaller, remote communities are do not share the same privileges as us.
Singh does not have a billion dollar plan for the water problem, he has a billion dollar gamble on the water problem. Singh is gambling with Indigenous livelihood and survival. And the odds are not looking great.
I could be pessimistic about this plan. And I know that these communities do not have the luxury of considering the consequences of Singh’s plan because they live with the realities of contaminated water. In much of the same way many of our ancestors could not continue to fight invasion forces because their people were starving.
Promises made from a position of power and accepted from a position of need.
I’m not saying don’t vote and I’m not saying don’t try, just don’t celebrate. At least not yet.