Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Thirst For Freedom

Originally published in Get on the Bus, January 2006

Dangerous Drinking Water in 100 Communities

In early November of 2005, hundreds of people were evacuated from their hometown of Kashechewan because their drinking water posed a serious risk to their health. Nearly half of this 1,900-person community was suffering from symptoms caused by dirty, E. coli infested water -- the same bacterium that is blamed for the deaths of five residents in Walkerton, Ontario in the year 2000.

While it may seem that this is not a problem of a country like Canada, Kashechewan is a reserve off James Bay, in northern Ontario, home to a Cree First Nations community. This community along with an alarming 100 more indicates a tragically unequal relationship between native people and the rest of Canada – and is another reason among many others why the government of Canada is not capable of running this country.

The Canadian federal government as well as the Ontario provincial government have known about this problem for a while, as the reserve has been on a “boil-your-water” alert for two years.

Kashechewan’s older, out-of-date water treatment plant was replaced in 1995, however the newer one has apparently failed. It was placed downstream from the community’s sewage lagoon. It was also built too small for a community of Kashechewan’s size.

As a band-aid solution, the Canadian government has evacuated hundreds of people out of this community and has been sending bottled water up to the reserve since April. Many residents still use tap water for cleaning and bathing. Even if the government’s response to the immediate situation were adequate, they have still not procured a means to solve the full scope of the situation and its ongoing present problems.

The Kashechewan community is not the only reserve in Canada with this problem. An alarming amount of one hundred reserves suffer from this epidemic of dirty water. Kwicksutaineuk, a First Nations reserve off the coast of British Colombia has been on a boil-water alert for nine years!

Dangerous levels of E. coli, the source of gastrointestinal health problems, force water treatment plants to shock drinking water with high amounts of chlorine. Generally, this kind of water along with poor living conditions of Reserves is known to cause scabies, chronic diarrhea and impetigo, where bacteria and parasites live under the skin.

The government and opposition continue to stress that no one deserves to be drinking dirty water in Canada as it has the largest fresh water surplus in the world. Yet, very little has been done to actually solve the problem of contaminated water in Canada for northern communities. More water treatment sites are being built full of errors and reserves have been suffering for years. What more will it take to expose this repeated disgusting carelessness of our government? Why is it that Canada, one of the most developed countries in the world, cannot even provide clean water for so many of its citizens? It isn’t because it’s impossible, or because it’s not practical. It’s because First Nations have been systematically oppressed by a certain class of people – a group of people who have never acted in the interests of aboriginal people, and don’t intend to. This class of people who don’t end inequality are not fit to rule – and should be fought continuously in every arena by the multi-national masses.

Now that they have been shamed into acting, the government is attempting some minor improvements. But shouldn’t we be asking why this situation has gone on for so long? And, shouldn’t the government all along be responsible for providing people with disease-free living conditions fit for human beings?


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