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Members of Friends of the Attawapiskat River meet with UN Special Rapporteur of human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation

UN ‘Right to Water’ Rapporteur Echoes Troubling Testimonies Shared by Indigenous Grassroots


Extractive activities including mining continue to breach human rights, particularly the right to water of Indigenous Peoples, according to the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation, Pedro Arrojo-Agudo who recently concluded a visit to Canada. From April 8-19, Mr. Arrojo-Agudo met with Indigenous representatives, receiving compelling testimonies about harsh on-reserve living conditions where, in many cases, not even their human right to drinking water was guaranteed. 

The Friends of the Attawapiskat River (the Friends), an Indigenous grassroots group from Treaty 9 represented by Kerrie Blaise at LAND, met with Mr. Arrojo-Agudo in Ottawa during his Canadian tour. Friends member Mike Koostachin from Attawpiskat told the UN Rapporteur that “people outside the community don’t understand the struggles we face as First Nations. Canada is a prosperous country but it feels like we’re still living in third-world conditions.”

Similar sentiments were reflected in the Rapporteur’s  end of mission statement who was cognizant of the “injustice” suffered as a result of the reserve system, where “most of non-Indigenous populations, mainly in urban areas, only experience occasional advisories due to accidents or breakdowns that are quickly remedied, as expected in a rich country like Canada.”

As Koostachin explained to the UN Rapporteur, without access to clean water, community members suffer from rashes and other skin related issues. Threats of mining activities contaminating their rivers and muskeg (peatlands) further impact community members, inducing fear and anxiety. In recognition of these concerns, the UN Rapporteur stated that “Indigenous Peoples disproportionally face the brunt of risks of toxic water contamination with serious health impacts. It is regrettable that those who cause damage to or pollution of water sources are not being held accountable and required to compensate for the harms.” 

Among the ‘deep reforms’ recommended by the Rapporteur are laws which promote a human rights-based ecosystem approach, with equal participation of Indigenous Peoples and governments guaranteeing the principle of free prior and informed consent. 

Together, the Friends and LAND continue to call on the federal and provincial governments to honour and protect Indigenous and Treaty rights, and to take immediate actions to address the urgent health, housing, and water crises facing communities. Crown interests cannot continue to be prioritized over the health, lands, and Natural Laws of Indigenous communities. 

A final, more comprehensive report from the UN Rapporteur will be presented to the United Nations Human Rights Council at its 57th session in September 2024.

Media Contacts

Kerrie Blaise, Founder and Legal Counsel

Photo: Members of Friends of the Attawapiskat River with UN Special Rapporteur Mr. Arrojo-Agudo. Photo credit: Mike Koostachin

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