Manitoba

2 Manitoba grand chiefs highlight long-term boil water advisories on World Water Day

Indigenous people in Manitoba are highlighting the significant role clean water plays in society today — practically and culturally — in honour of World Water Day.

U of M prof studying Anishinaabe water words says they show 'how the original state of the water flowed'

'The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed the situation for disease spread in a First Nation community is worse with deficient water and wastewater systems when combined with overcrowded housing,' said MKO Grand Chief Garrison Sette in a news release. (CBC)

Indigenous people in Manitoba are highlighting the significant role clean water plays in society today — practically and culturally — in honour of World Water Day.

The United Nations declared March 22 as World Water Day since 1993. It's a day to focus on the importance of fresh water, and advocating for sustainable development and bringing clean drinking water to more people.

"Our water resources in Manitoba, unfortunately, are neglected and have been mistreated over several decades as part of economic development," said Arlen Dumas, grand chief of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, in a news release.

Hydroelectric development has flooded hunting and sacred ceremonial lands, the Churchill River diversion ruined some First Nations' economies, sewage and chemical runoff is making Lake Winnipeg unhealthy and invasive species in the lake are threatening the local wildlife, Dumas said.

Meanwhile, some First Nations are still under boil water advisories, he said.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau first promised to end all long-term boil water advisories within five years, while he was campaigning in 2015. In 2019, the Trudeau government pledged a deadline of March 2021.

But Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller announced last December that the deadline won't be met — partially because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but also due to short construction seasons in communities that rely on ice roads for transportation of heavy machinery and supplies. 

According to the Indigenous Services Canada website, 101 boil water advisories have been lifted since November 2015, as of March 9. There remain 58 advisories in effect across Canada, including for four First Nations in Manitoba: Tataskweyak Cree Nation, Shamattawa First Nation, Little Saskatchewan First Nation and Sapotaweyak Cree Nation.

"The importance of water has never been so apparent as over the last year, when public health measures to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 have included washing your hands thoroughly on a regular basis and regularly cleaning household surfaces," said Garrison Settee, grand chief of Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak Inc. (MKO), in a news release.

"The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed the situation for disease spread in a First Nation community is worse with deficient water and wastewater systems when combined with overcrowded housing."

U of M prof studies Anishinaabe water words

Myrle Ballard, a University of Manitoba assistant professor and Indigenous scholar, is researching the relationship between Anishinaabe words for waterways and landforms, because their translations provides a descriptive baseline — and could help address flooding and water security, she says.

Ballard grew up in Obuskudayang — also known as Lake St. Martin First Nation — but it wasn't until university when she noticed Anishinaabe words for waterways and landforms describe more than just a body or mass, she said.

"They describe the natural law of the ecosystem of aquatics," Ballard said.

'What I want to accomplish at the end of all of this is to demonstrate that the natural law of the words, within the words, is the way the water should be managed,' said Myrle Ballard, a University of Manitoba assistant professor and Indigenous scholar. (University of Manitoba)

Massive flooding in 2011 from the Fairford Dam forced people from several First Nations to evacuate their homes. The damage to Lake St. Martin First Nation was so severe that the community had to be rebuilt in a new area, and some of its members are still waiting to return to the community.

Last summer, Ballard started documenting names of various points in the Lake St. Martin area, and some act as descriptors for what the nearby water does, she said.

"What I want to accomplish at the end of all of this is to demonstrate that the natural law of the words, within the words, is the way the water should be managed," she said.

"The natural law of the words demonstrate how the original state of the water flowed. With the changes throughout the centuries and decades, the natural state does not exist anymore because man manipulated the natural state of the water."

Ballard says the true meaning of the words should guide how waterways are dealt with.

For example, before being displaced, people who lived on Lake St. Martin First Nation recognized natural flooding occurred every 50 years or so, and the people thought of it as nature rejuvenating and cleansing itself, she said.

So the community would move across the lake to higher ground until the water receded, then they'd return, she said.

With files from Faith Fundal and Nicholas Frew

now