AMC Challenges Efficacy of Federal Water Legislation
December 13, 2023
Treaty One Territory, Manitoba
Treaty One Territory – The Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs (AMC) challenges the efficacy of federal legislation to improve the quality of drinking water and wastewater treatment infrastructure on reserves across Canada. The First Nations Drinking Water and Wastewater Act insufficiently considers First Nations’ jurisdiction concerning drinking water, wastewater, and related infrastructure on the traditional and ancestral lands of First Nations in Manitoba.
AMC Grand Chief Cathy Merrick states that, despite recognizing First Nations jurisdiction in certain areas, the current framework closely mirrors the Indian Act and other federal legislation that limits the full acknowledgment of self-determination and inherent rights for First Nations in Manitoba. “Canada still believes it has the right to tell First Nations how we can implement our laws,” said Grand Chief Merrick, “This contradicts the Nation-to-Nation relationship between First Nations and the Crown because the authority and legislative power of First Nations should not rely on federal legislation.”
The bill also provides discretion to the Minister in determining support for First Nations entering into enforcement agreements with other levels of government. This unilateral discretion conflicts with the guiding principles for funding allocation, emphasizing sufficiency, predictability, stability, sustainability, and needs-based support. As such, “support should be mandatory and not at the discretion of a single Minister,” said Grand Chief Merrick.
First Nations have been stewards of the waterways since time immemorial, possessing vital local and historical knowledge crucial for water conservation, restoration, and protection. While the explicit requirement for consultation is a positive in decision-making under the legislation, the fact remains that ultimate decision-making resides with the federal government. As with the duty to consult, which Canadian courts have indicated does not provide First Nations with a veto, there is always the risk that consultations will be a procedural process where First Nations are provided with no meaningful decision-making authority. “Canada must recognize First Nations as legitimate Nations and we must be given the same legal discretion as any other sovereign Nation,” concluded Grand Chief Merrick.
To date, only a handful of First Nations in Manitoba have had the opportunity to obtain a comprehensive understanding of the bill to formulate and submit a comprehensive response. The AMC asserts that the sincere engagement of First Nations Leadership is pivotal in shaping laws and decisions that impact the well-being of First Nations citizens. The AMC calls upon the federal government to propose alternative
language throughout the bill that justly acknowledges and respects the inherent rights and authority of First Nations. Furthermore, Canada is urged to collaborate closely with First Nations to ensure equitable participation from First Nations across Turtle Island in developing this legislation.