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Sunday, January 29, 2012

Book Review: Denying the Source: The Crisis of First Nations Water Rights

Review: Denying the Source: The Crisis of First Nations Water Rights

 My posts on the issue of water, were inspired not only by previous research I have done on First Nations and the sacredness of water but when I was able to hear Anishnaabe Grandmother Josephine Mandamin speak about the importance of water and how water plays such an integral role with First Nations people across Turtle Island.

First Nations peoples face some of the worst water crises in Canada and throughout North America, and though the widespread lack of access to safe drinking water receives ongoing national media attention, there is very little progress addressing the causes of this problem. It is baffling that the causes of these problems are not addressed more thoroughly.

Merrell-Ann S. Phare, the author of “Denying the Source: The Crisis of First Nations Water Rights,” states “Most governments in Canada assert that they own the water within their boundaries. Given this and with few exceptions, every use of water in Canada requires a permit of one kind or another from a provincial governments,” but when it comes to water needed by First Nations, there is uncertainty as to who is in control of or responsible for or can allocate that water.

Phare addresses such questions as, “What entitlement do First Nations have to water? Is it the same type or scope of entitlement as other Canadians? And if different, how and why and what does this mean for First Nation and non-First Nations water security? First Nations have had little say in how their waters are, or are not, protected. They have been excluded from many important decisions, as provinces operate under the view that they own the water resources within provincial boundaries, and the federal government takes a hands-off approach.

The demands for access to waters that First Nations depend upon are intense and growing. Oil and gas, mining, ranching, farming and hydro-development all require enormous quantities of water, and each brings its own set of negative impacts to the rivers, lakes and groundwater sources that are critical to First Nations. Climate change threatens to make matters even worse.

Over the last 30 years, the courts have clarified that First Nations have numerous rights to land and resources, including the right to be involved in decision-making, but other sectors such as agricultural and industrial development all require enormous amounts of water, and this all has very serious negative impacts on the rivers, lakes that are critical to way of life for First Nations peoples. This book is a call to respect the water rights of First Nations, and through this creates a new water ethic in Canada and beyond.

“Denying the Source: The Crisis of First Nations Water Rights” is written by Merrell-Ann S. Phare and is published by Rocky Mountain Books. You can find it at your nearest bookstore.

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