Water Situation "Deplorable"

From the Chronicle Journal August 24, 2006 By JIM KELLY

Frank Beardy has a theory that the high rate of cancers among Nishnawbe Aski Nation communities is related to the water residents drink.  Beardy, former chief of Muskrat Dam First Nation, made a presentation Wednesday to the expert panel on safe drinking water for First Nations.

The panel, which held two days of hearings in Thunder Bay, is holding informal sessions across Canada and accepting written submissions until Aug. 31. The panel will present an interim report to Indian and Northern Affairs Canada at that time.  A final report will be released this fall which will analyse options for regulations."I know what I'm talking about," said Beardy who lost his wife Lucy to cancer.  "It (cancer) was unheard of 20 to 30 years ago," he said.  "Now, we have the highest cancer rate per capita among Canadian society".Panel member Prof. Steve Hrudey of the University of Alberta, said from the evidence available to him, it's unlikely the cancers in First Nations communities were caused by drinking water."For many years we've been plagued by many experts," Beardy told Hrudey.  "Despite the views of the experts, we know what we're living with."He said NAN covers about two-thirds of Ontario and included 49 First Nation communities, 19 of which are under boil-water advisories."It's truly amazing that with the abundance of water in our territories, we cannot drink from the lakes and rivers," Beardy told the panel."Ontario First Nation communities experience some of the poorest water quality in the province.  this is depolarable," Beardy said.He said the communities do not benefit from federal and provincial guidelines.  Health Canada tests some First Nation water supplies only once a year."We're always on the outside.  The federal government is responsible for safe drinking water."Beardy said most First Nation communities don't have enough money to hire and train the best qualified water plant operators, who instead are scooped up by municipalities.Beardy once said he has a simple solution:"Once clear standards are set, it will be easier to determine what needs to be done to meet those standards.  Let's start working now to implement safe water standards," he said.  Arnold Gardiner of Grand Council Treaty No. 3 said First Nation communities want to be accountable to themselves."We want to be self-sufficienct," he told the panel.  "We want to take over the resources on our lands and we'll look after our water."  Panel chairman Harry Swain said it's not within the panel's mandate to deal with treaty rights.

See Chronicle Journal August 24, 2006 By JIM KELLY

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