Water is Life: Every Person has a Right to Clean, Safe, and Reliable Drinking Water


March 22 is World Water Day


Moberly Lake, BC. Photo credit: Sarah Lalonde


A message from Dr. Kamran Golmohammadi, Medical Officer, Environmental Health, Office of the Chief Medical Officer (OCMO); Sarah Lalonde (Saulteau First Nations), Executive Director, OCMO; and Rob Fleming, Manager, Drinking Water Safety, Public Health Response Team

In the Cree language, water is “nipiy," which is a combination of two words: “niya pimatisiwin," meaning, “I am Life."

First Nations people know that water is life and that water is alive. Where you find water, you will find life. We are all born out of water; in our mothers' wombs we are surrounded by water. Water is sacred; we use it in our sweat lodges, and some Coastal Nations take spirit baths in the oceans and rivers. Water is imperative for our health, for our very lives, and for the lives of all of our relatives (all other living beings), and for our Mother Earth. We all need water.

Although the United Nations has recognized the right of every human being to have access to enough water for personal and domestic uses (drinking, cooking, bathing and more), many countries – including Canada – have still not invested what is needed to achieve this critical goal and have still not fulfilled promises to do so.

So, First Nations water activists in British Columbia (BC) and Canada continue to lobby the provincial and federal governments to ensure our communities have access to “safe, clean, and reliable drinking water." This is a set of nationally agreed criteria: “clean" refers to addressing the risk of microbiological contaminants; “safe" refers to addressing the risk of chemical contaminants; and “reliable" refers to addressing the risk of inconsistent drinking water system operations.

As a health and wellness partner to First Nations in BC, the FNHA is continuing work across BC on this critically important issue. You can read about some of our programs and partnerships at these links:

Of course, there is still a great deal to be done. As a result of the racist reserve system, many First Nations communities are situated remotely, away from big cities, so do not have adequate drinking water, infrastructure, and operators. What's more, communities with smaller drinking water systems, including individual and micro (two to four connections) systems, are especially impacted as they are unable to access the funding required to invest in the required infrastructure upgrades.

The good news is that the FNHA continues its work with BC First Nations, their consultants, Indigenous Services Canada (ISC), and operators contracted through ISC to support communities with training and maintenance/repairs, building new drinking water systems, and training First Nations community members to work as water systems operators and community-based water systems monitors for water safety.


"​Water is Life: Thunderbird Woman's Mom" by Christi Belcourt: to purchase prints, please go to www.christibe​lcourt.ca.​

There are now many success stories throughout BC as First Nations communities obtain effective water infrastructure. The FNHA continues providing funding grants to support awareness and preservation of communities' drinking water sources through the Our Community Our Water Grant Program. And as a result of the ongoing training opportunities we support, First Nations community members are obtaining higher levels of certification than ever before. These dedicated and conscientious water system operators and community-based water monitors are paramount in keeping their community members and visitors safe, and deserve great respect and recognition for playing a key role in providing clean, safe and reliable tap water.


Sarah Lalonde and her son Coen at Moberly Lake, BC, where Sarah grew up. Photo credit: Andrew Pacey

The FNHA will continue its work to achieve our vision of healthy, self-determining, and vibrant First Nations communities in BC, including ensuring this basic human right.​​

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