Maude Barlow addresses Assembly of First Nations convention, supports First Nations calls for internationally recognized human right to water

Media Release
July 14, 2011

Moncton, NB – Maude Barlow, national chairperson of the Council of Canadians, addressed the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) Annual General Assembly this morning, pledging her and her organization's full support for First Nations struggles for access to clean water and sanitation, which Canada and the provinces are now required by international law to provide as a human right for all peoples.

"Almost one year ago to this day, the United Nations acknowledged that water and sanitation is a fundamental human right, equal to other rights that are enforceable under international law. Even though the Harper government shamefully abstained from the vote recognizing the right to water, it is nonetheless bound by an obligation to ensure the peoples of Canada enjoy that right," said Barlow in her speech to the AFN.

"The human right to water and sanitation is being violated right here in Canada. First Nations' homes are 90 percent less likely to have running water than the homes of other Canadians," says Barlow. "The Harper government cannot hide from this fact. It is now under international obligation to redress this travesty."

Water is a prominent theme in resolutions to this year's AFN convention. One calls on the AFN to advocate for the application of UN General Assembly Resolution on the right to water and sanitation in Canada "as a supporting mechanism for the implementation of Indigenous Rights, Title, and Treaty Rights in Canada." Another asks that prior and pre-extinguished water rights of First Nations in British Columbia be addressed and given priority over short- and long-term water rights to third parties in First Nations' territories.

There is a resolution asking for a government investigation into the impacts on water of shale gas developments on First Nations lands, and another which asks the AFN to continue to support the Tsilhqot'in Nation struggle in B.C. against the proposed New Prosperity copper mine, which has been rejected once by the federal government based on independent panel findings it would have "significant adverse environmental effects on fish and fish habitat, on navigation, on the current use of lands and resources for traditional purposes by First Nations and on cultural heritage, and on certain potential or established Aboriginal rights or title."

"The Council of Canadians is very keen to work with the Assembly of First Nations to address the crucial issue of water and sanitation on First Nations communities across the country and to use the two historic UN resolutions recognizing the human right to drinking water and sanitation to dramatically improve the situation," said Barlow at the close of her speech. "That is why we need to work together to see justice done and ensure the dignity of clean water and sanitation to everyone in this country and around the world."

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