Nov 19, 2008

Buffalo River Dene Nation: Water Summit

Active ImageAn Indigenous water summit discusses the concerns of aboriginal peoples on water and tarsands.
Below is an article published by Slave River Journal:

Aboriginal leaders left the Dene Nation Water Summit in Yellowknife ready to take the battle on water quality (and quantity) to the rest of Canada and the USA.
The Water Summit, held in the NWT capital November 4-6 [2008], concluded with a recommendation an Indigenous Commission on Water be created and invested with two key tasks:
1. Gather information relating to aboriginal people’s thoughts and concerns on water from across Canada;
2. Educate the public about those concerns, including lobbying investors of major polluting projects like Alberta’s tarsands.
“There have been five water conferences in the past three years. Now people are saying enough talk – we need to take action,” said Francios Paulette, co-chair of the Water Summit. “There are a lot of concerns right across Canada about quality and quantity of water. Eighty per cent of [native] reserves have to boil their water. It’s alarming.”
Concerns addressed at the summit ranged from national issues with wide-ranging effects on water such as climate change, to local issues like a potential Slave River hydro project. The summit spent two days talking about the issues and the third day looking at ways to move forward to deal with the concerns.
“The North is concerned about the water, the downstream effects on the Slave River, Great Slave Lake and the Mackenzie River,” said Paulette. “The big concern is the tarsands up river, polluting the river.
Alberta’s government is not cooperating. There is no form of monitoring the water.”
It was acknowledged the Northern aboriginal community must look beyond its own borders to deal with the water crisis. To that end, aboriginal leaders from across the country were involved in the summit, along with territorial government representatives and environmental non-government organizations.
“This was a very important and successful meeting,” said Assembly of First Nations (AFN) National Chief Phil Fontaine, who opened the conference alongside Dene Nation National Chief Bill Erasmus, in a Journal interview. “We heard from youth, elders and First Nations experts about the importance of traditional knowledge in assessing the health of our water. We also heard, very strongly, that our rights and jurisdictional authority to water must be recognized.”
Fontaine will preside over the AFN’s annual general meeting in Ottawa December 9-11 [2008]. That meeting will hear the recommendation for an indigenous commission on water and decide how to best move forward. From there recommendations will be sent out to chiefs across Canada in order to gather their support.
“An indigenous commission on water must be broader in scope than traditional public inquiries and include an ability to create new water policy through research and public forums addressing the indigenous water agenda and respecting constitutionally protected treaty rights by other levels of governments,” Fontaine told The Journal.