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Update 2023/12/11
First Nations

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11 Dec, 2023, 17:33 ET

Together with First Nations leadership, Minister Patty Hajdu introduces a Bill to support clean drinking water in First Nations communities

Bill C-61 is the next step to ensure First Nations have clean drinking water for generations to come.

OTTAWA, UNCEDED ALGONQUIN TERRITORY, ON,Dec. 11, 2023/CNW/ - Everyone inCanadashould have access to safe and clean drinking water. First Nations have long called for legislation that affirms their inherent rights, recognizes their stewardship in keeping water clean and meets First Nations needs. Effective legislation, a national regulatory regime, and First Nations-led institutions are essential to supporting sustainable access to clean, safe and reliable drinking water in First Nations communities.

Today, the Honourable Patty Hajdu, Minister of Indigenous Services, introduced a Bill in the House of Commons as part of the Government's commitment to establish new proposed safe drinking water and wastewater legislation in consultation with First Nations.

Aligned with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the proposed legislation was developed through extensive engagement that put First Nations voices at the forefront.Canadaworked directly with First Nation rights-holders, including Modern Treaty and Self-Governing First Nations, through their own representative institutions, and First Nation organizations including the Assembly of First Nations, to help ensure the Bill is responsive to First Nations' needs and priorities. In the spirit of partnership, and to encourage feedback from as many First Nations as possible, consultation drafts were posted online. Engagement leading to this bill began in 2018.

Bill C-61 would affirm the inherent right of First Nations to self-government. It would ensure that First Nations have more tools necessary to protect source water and maintain drinking water and wastewater infrastructure in a self-determined way. It would hold the federal government accountable to continued funding investments in water infrastructure. It would also lead to the application of minimum standards for clean drinking water in every First Nation and lay the groundwork for the creation of a First Nation-led water institution to support communities.

More specifically, the Bill would:

  • Require the Minister of Indigenous Services to make best efforts, in consultation and cooperation with First Nations, to provide access to safe drinking water on First Nation lands;
  • Strengthen funding commitments through best efforts to provide adequate and sustainable funding for water services on First Nation lands comparable to services received in non-First Nations communities;
  • Require that funding, at a minimum, meets the commitment of expenditures set out in the 2021 Safe Drinking Water for First Nations Settlement Agreement;
  • Establish minimum national standards for drinking water and wastewater on First Nation lands, based on First Nation choice;
  • Facilitate water agreements, including transboundary source water protection agreements (First Nations,Canada, and provincial and territorial governments) and bilateral financial agreements between First Nations andCanadato support the exercise of First Nation jurisdiction;
  • Commit to supporting the establishment of a First Nations Water Commission to assist First Nations in exercising greater control over their drinking water and wastewater services; and
  • Support the implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, including through consultation and cooperation on federal regulatory and funding allocation decisions.

The Government ofCanada'scommitment to sustainable access to clean and safe drinking water in First Nations communities does not end with the introduction of this Bill. The Government ofCanadawill continue to work with rights-holders and First Nation organizations to ensure access to safe drinking water now and for future generations.

Quotes

"Today is an important beginning. The First Nations Clean Water Act will hold this, and every future government, accountable to implementing and upholding First Nations' inherent and treaty rights to water. We will use the tools in this legislation to protect the water as keepers of the lands and resources for all the generations to come."

Erica Beaudin
Cowessess First NationChief

"Our Chiefs inAtlantic Canadahave always supported the idea of legislation linked to detailed regulations to address water, wastewater and related infrastructure. This is a key reason we began work over a decade ago on establishingCanada'sfirst Indigenous-led water utility—the Atlantic First Nations Water Authority. The proposed legislation is a great start and a unique opportunity for First Nations to take control of a service critical to the social, economic, and environmental well-being of our communities. The Atlantic Chiefs are supportive of its introduction and look forward to providing testimony to the committee to refine the legislation, ensuring that it works for First Nations acrossCanada."

ChiefBob Gloade
Co-Chair of the Atlantic Policy Congress of First Nations Chiefs Secretariat

"For our people, water is an important traditional cultural value and has been a critical part of all our communities in the past and future. Safe drinking water is a fundamental human right and it is our expectation that this legislation and further investments will make this a reality for all First Nations inCanada."

ChiefShelley Sabattis
Co-Chair of the Atlantic Policy Congress of First Nations Chiefs Secretariat

"Created with First Nations, this legislation is the foundation of clean and safe drinking water for generations to come. It establishes the rights and supports that should have always been there for First Nations. It creates the tools First Nations need to manage their water systems and ensure the water they draw from is safe. It holds the federal government accountable to provide sustainable funding so that communities never have to live with unsafe water. And it is thanks to the extensive expertise, work, and guidance of First Nations partners that this legislation will lead to a future where no one has to grow up without clean drinking water ever again."

The Honourable Patty Hajdu
Minister of Indigenous Services

Quick facts

  • The 2021Safe Drinking Water for First Nations Class Action Settlement AgreementcommittedCanadato making all reasonable efforts to develop and introduce proposed legislation, in consultation with First Nations, to replace the repealed 2013Safe Drinking Water for First Nations Act.
  • First Nations have continued to underscore the importance of recognizing their rights, providing sustainable funding for drinking and wastewater services, protecting source water, and maintaining ongoing engagement on water issues that affect First Nations. This is consistent withCanada-led engagement in 2017–2018, Assembly of First Nations-led engagement since 2018,Canada-led engagement in spring 2022 on repeal of the 2013Safe Drinking Water for First Nations Act, and engagement on consultation drafts of the legislative proposal posted publicly in advance of introducing this Bill.
  • The 2021Safe Drinking Water for First Nations Class Action Settlement Agreementclaim deadline for individuals and the acceptance deadline for First Nations have been extended by one year. First Nations and individuals affected by long-term drinking water advisories on First Nation lands that lasted for at least one year betweenNovember 20, 1995, andJune 20, 2021, have untilMarch 7, 2024, to submit claims for compensation.
  • The Government ofCanadais working with First Nations communities to achieve safe and clean drinking water on First Nation lands. As ofDecember 11, 2023, and sinceNovember 2015, First Nations have lifted 143 long-term drinking water advisories on public systems on First Nation lands.

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Backgrounder

Bill C-61:First Nations Clean Water Act(short title), or anAct respecting water, source water, drinking water, wastewater and related infrastructure on First Nation lands

Bill C-61, the proposedFirst Nations Clean Water Act, is the next step to ensure First Nations have clean drinking water for generations to come.

It is the result of extensive consultation. In 2013, theSafe Drinking Water for First Nations Actcame into effect, but First Nations were already calling for its repeal and replacement. Engagement has been ongoing, and in 2018, the Assembly of First Nations, with support fromCanada, led an engagement to review the Act. First Nations shared several concerns.

Bill C-61, introduced in Parliament today, is the result of our commitment to introduce legislation that addresses key priorities and concerns raised by First Nations. Bill C-61 would recognize and affirm the inherent right of First Nations to self-government in relation to water, source water, drinking water, wastewater and related infrastructure on, in and under First Nation lands.

It would also establish rights-based regulatory pathways to protect water and source water adjacent to First Nation lands, in consultation and cooperation with First Nations, other federal Ministers, and provinces and territories, to help protect drinking water sources flowing onto First Nation lands.

Bill C-61 would also support the closing of drinking water and wastewater service gaps between First Nations and non-First Nations communities, and operate independently of theIndian Act.

It would also commit the federal government to make best efforts to provide adequate and sustainable funding for water services on First Nation lands. That funding would be required to meet, as a minimum, the commitment expenditures set out in the Settlement Agreement.

Key elements of the Bill include:

  • recognition and affirmation of the inherent right of First Nations to self-government, including jurisdiction over water, source water, drinking water, wastewater and related infrastructure on, in and under First Nation lands;
  • rights-based regulatory pathways to protect water and source water adjacent to First Nation lands, in consultation and cooperation with First Nations, other federal Ministers, and provinces and territories, to help protect drinking water sources flowing onto First Nation lands;
  • minimum national standards for the delivery of drinking water and wastewater services on First Nation lands, based on First Nation choice;
  • a federal commitment to make best efforts to provide adequate and sustainable funding for water services on First Nation lands comparable to services received in non-First Nations communities;
  • a requirement to provide funding that, as a minimum, meets the commitment expenditures set out in section 9.02(2) of the Settlement Agreement;
  • a requirement for all decisions made under the proposed Act to be guided by the principle of free, prior and informed consent; and
  • a commitment forCanadato support the creation of a First Nations Water Commission that would support First Nations in exercising greater control over drinking water and wastewater services on First Nation lands.

Bill C-61 is aligned with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples through federal requirements to consult and cooperate with First Nations on matters in the Bill. In addition, it requires decisions to be guided by the principle of free, prior and informed consent.

The proposed legislation was developed through comprehensive engagement that put First Nation voices at the forefront.Canadaworked directly with First Nation rights-holders, including Modern Treaty and Self-Governing First Nations, through their own representative institutions and First Nation organizations, including the Assembly of First Nations and the First Nations Advisory Committee on Safe Drinking Water, to help ensure the Bill is reflective of First Nations needs and priorities.

In addition to the Government ofCanada'scommitment to implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the Bill would further requireCanadato work with First Nation partners when:

  • making and implementing federal funding allocation decisions to support sufficient, predictable, stable, sustainable and needs-based funding for water services on First Nation lands;
  • developing federal regulations under the proposed Act;
  • supporting the establishment of a First Nations Water Commission;
  • supporting First Nation choice in the application of minimum national standards; and
  • making best efforts to ensure access to clean and safe drinking water for all located on First Nation lands.

Timeline of key events:

July 2023

InJuly 2023,Canadapublicly shared an updated consultation draft of a legislative proposal with First Nation rights-holders, First Nation organizations, provinces and territories, and posted the updated draft online for further feedback bySeptember 2023. This ongoing dialogue continued untilmid-September 2023.

February 2023 

InFebruary 2023,Canadashared an initial consultation draft of a legislative proposal with First Nation rights-holders, First Nation organizations, provinces and territories, and posted the initial draft online for review and feedback byApril 2023. This period was the first of two consultation periods on the consultation draft.

Summer 2022 

Canadaincreased engagement and information sharing with First Nation rights-holders, including Modern Treaty and Self-Governing First Nations, through their own representative institutions and First Nation organizations to support the development of new proposed First Nations drinking water and wastewater legislation.

June 2022 

The official repeal of the 2013Safe Drinking Water for First Nations Actthrough the Budget Implementation Act, 2022, No. 1received Royal Assent onJune 23, 2022. 

March 2022 

Canadaengaged key First Nation rights-holders and First Nation organizations on the proposed repeal of the 2013Safe Drinking Water for First Nations Actthrough virtual engagement sessions. All participants supported the proposed repeal.

2021 

The Safe Drinking Water for First Nations Class Action Settlement Agreement wasapproved by the Federal Court and theManitobaCourt of Queen's Bench (now theManitobaCourt of King's Bench) onDecember 22, 2021. Through the Settlement Agreement,Canadais committed to making all reasonable efforts to:

  • introduce repeal of the 2013Safe Drinking Water for First Nations ActbyMarch 31, 2022; and
  • develop and introduce proposed replacement legislation, in consultation with First Nations, byDecember 31, 2022. 

2019

Legal action began againstCanadain a proposed class action on behalf of all First Nations members both on and off reserves with a drinking water advisory for at least one year since 1995.

2018 

The Assembly of First Nations, with support fromCanada, led an engagement to review the 2013Safe Drinking Water for First Nations Act. First Nations shared several concerns, including:

  • lack of adequate, predictable and sustainable funding;
  • lack of recognition of Aboriginal rights;
  • potential infringement of Aboriginal and treaty rights;
  • lack of protection of source water; and
  • insufficient engagement on water issues that directly affect First Nations.

2015

Engagement on regulations came to a stop as First Nations called for the repeal and replacement of the 2013Safe Drinking Water for First Nations Act.

2013 

TheSafe Drinking Water for First Nations Actcame into effect to supportCanadain developing federal regulations to ensure access to safe, clean and reliable drinking water and the effective treatment of wastewater on First Nation lands. 

Associated links

Drinking water and wastewater legislation

Updated consultation draft: Proposal for An Act respecting drinking water, wastewater and related infrastructure on First Nation lands

Initial consultation draft: Proposal for An Act respecting drinking water, wastewater and related infrastructure on First Nation lands

Developing laws and regulations for First Nations drinking water and wastewater: engagement 2022 to 2023

First Nations Drinking Water Settlement

What we heard about the review of the Safe Drinking Water for First Nations Act

Water in First Nations communities

Achieving clean drinking water in First Nations communities

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SOURCE Indigenous Services Canada

For further information: For more information, media may contact: Simon Ross, Director of Communications and Issues Management, Office of the Minister of Indigenous Services,simon.ross@sac-isc.gc.ca; Media Relations, Indigenous Services Canada, 819-953-1160,media@sac-isc.gc.ca



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