Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Water, water everywhere, but...

  • Print

I took some flack a few years back when I wrote that an 80-year-old woman should not have to stumble through 50 yards of six-foot snow drifts in 50 below weather to freeze in an outhouse every time she has to go to the bathroom in a wealthy country such as Canada. OK, this image may appear undignified, but I thought some clear imagery was needed to bring this point home since, year after year, nothing is being done about the lack of running water in many of the homes in which First Nations families are forced to live.

Recently, the Free Press used five pages to essentially say the same thing. Kudos to Helen Fallding for her well-researched account of the difficulties and dangers of trying to run a household without the ready supply of water that most Canadians take for granted when they take a shower, flush a toilet, bathe their children and do their dishes and laundry.

None of this is new. Every so often, these Third World conditions get some publicity and they build a water treatment centre in one community and they supply some other community with a water delivery truck, while the treatment centre and water truck in another community get too old and wear out. We will never get caught up the way things are.

There just doesn't seem to be the will, and without the will, there is no way.

I think this is because most Canadians don't know why we should be ending these Third World conditions and they don't know how such an expensive undertaking can be paid for.

Too many people get caught up in ethical reasons such as "we have a moral obligation" to do this, or philosophical reasons such as "a society is judged by how it treats the unfortunate within its midst." Others don't want "Canada's image on the world stage to be negatively affected."

Many people simply believe we don't have the money.

Canadians are basically good people and they usually want to do the right thing (although you might not think this after witnessing a throng of Free Press readers agree with a letter to the editor that essentially said Indians should live like farmers did in the 1930s without running water while the rest of us live with all the modern comforts of 2010). And we are immensely proud of Canada's reputation as a great place to live. Canadians are a giving people, too. We lead the world in charitable donations and we spend plenty of money in Third World countries. But all this hasn't created the will or the way to provide running water in all First Nations in Canada.

Perhaps other ways of thinking will provide the ways and means of getting this job done.

First, the best way to get people to agree to anything is to convince them it makes economic sense. And the simple fact is that if we spend the money to provide safe, clean running water to First Nations communities, we will actually save money. On health care. The cost of providing plumbing to one home is way, way less than paying for the additional doctors and nurses and hospitals and medicine a family of five to 10 people will require over their lifetimes because they live in unsanitary conditions. And the return on investment is good because healthy people are much more likely to lead productive lives and make a positive contribution to our economy. So we will actually make lots of money by doing this.

Some people think we can't afford the cost of this kind of infrastructure right now. We just went through that global economic downturn and we hear those horror stories about ordinary, hard-working people going bankrupt and so on.

But we also know that, unlike the United States, Canada was relatively unscathed by that global downturn. More conservative economic policies and the fact Canada is a resource-rich country kept us from going broke individually and collectively.

The reason we still have so many people living in Third World conditions (i.e. First Nations) is not the amount of wealth we have in this country, it is the uneven (and unfair) distribution of this wealth.

It has been estimated that 95 per cent of the riches in Canada are controlled by five per cent of the population. Just how many yachts does one need to water ski behind?

The excess wealth of the billionaires and millionaires is Canada is ridiculous. I am a capitalist, but there is a limit as to how much some individuals can have and others cannot have (these are not the days of kings and serfs, and when a lot of these mega-millionaires got that way by making us wait for an hour on the phone to talk to a call centre employee who is being paid $10 an hour to stonewall our complaints about shoddy products and/or services, well...)

With most of us living in a home with 7.3 rooms (plus rec room), driving 1.8 cars and spending 12.6 days a year on vacation in some exotic location, we can spare the bucks, especially since this is a good investment. Come on! Remember that 80-year-old woman hiking up her skirt to trudge through a six-foot snowdrift in the middle of winter.

And, if you think this country isn't wealthy, you should see all the tower cranes (at least 50) that were putting up expensive condominiums and office towers in Toronto right in the middle of that so-called economic downturn.

But finally, we have to create the infrastructure to provide running water on First Nations because it is a basic human right!

The Supreme Court of Canada itself has ruled that we signed legal treaties, which are governed by spirit and intent. First Nations representatives agreed to move on to smaller areas of land while agreeing to share or cede other lands in exchange for certain things. First Nations should receive royalties from the development of these lands (just five per cent of the annual take from mining, forestry and hydroelectric power would pay for this infrastructure in one year) Bottom line, First Nations are supposed to receive education, health care, housing and the basic amenities of life, including safe, clean, running water.

So, not only is it unfair for First Nations people to live without running water, it is morally and ethically wrong. We can afford to create the infrastructure that's needed to provide running water on First Nations. And while there is no legal statute that says Canadians must provide Indians with clean, running water, the spirit and intent of the treaties is that such basic needs must be met and the Supreme Court of Canada has agreed.

Don Marks is a Winnipeg writer.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 5, 2010 A14

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes


  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.


Make text: Larger | Smaller


Jets vs. Ducks Series promo

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • JOE BRYKSA/WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Local- A large osprey lands in it's nest in a hydro pole on Hyw 59  near the Hillside Beach turnoff turn off. Osprey a large narrow winged hawk which can have a wingspan of over 54 inches are making a incredible recovery since pesticide use of the 1950's and  1960's- For the last two decades these fish hawks have been reappearing in the Lake Winnipeg area- Aug 03, 2005
  • A gosling stares near water at Omands Creek Park-See Bryksa 30 day goose challenge- Day 25– June 21, 2012   (JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)

View More Gallery Photos


Do you agree with the sale of the Canadian Wheat Board to foreign companies?

View Results

View Related Story

Ads by Google