Today is World Water Day – 2009 Anishnabek, Mushkegowuk, and Onkwehonwe Water Declaration

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Since 1993, March 22 has been designated by the United Nations as World Water Day, a day of international observance and an opportunity to bring awareness to issues related to the future of the water around the globe. “Water Day reminds us all of our responsibility to the future,” said Ontario Regional Chief Isadore Day. “Water is the greatest gift that Mother Earth provides for all of us, and it is our duty to preserve and protect our water sources, so future generations will continue to experience that gift.” First Nation communities across Canada experience first-hand the effects of water degradation, as the changing climate and industrial and ship-source pollution have contributed to a loss of traditional ecosystem resources, a loss of water quantity and quality, and adverse health effects. Guided by the 2009 Anishnabek, Mushkegowuk, and Onkwehonwe Water Declaration, First Nations in Ontario have worked closely to bring awareness to these issues, as well as strengthening partnerships with neighbouring communities and with Canada.  This Declaration serves as the foundation for core First Nations’ values and principles which affirm responsibility and reverence to the waters and guides the framework for cooperative efforts with Canada, such as Annex 13 of the 2014 Canada-Ontario Agreement on Great Lakes Water Quality and Ecosystem Health. The first annual meeting of the Canada-Ontario Agreement executives with First Nation representatives took place earlier this month.   In 2010, the U.N. General Assembly declared that access to clean drinking water and sanitation is recognized as a basic human right. However, for many First Nations, this right has been consistently denied. According to Health Canada, 62 Ontario First Nation community sites have been under Boil Water Advisories, some for a decade or more. Five communities are under a stricter Do Not Consume Advisory due to contaminants such as mercury in the drinking water, with some declaring States of Emergency as a result. “These statistics are unacceptable in a country such as Canada,” said Regional Chief Day. “It is beyond time for Canada to act.” In 2011, led by Grandmother Josephine Mandamin, First Nations across Canada and the United States participated in the Turtle Island Mother Earth Water Walk. The Water Walk, spanning more than 18,500 kilometres of distance in both the United States and Canada, was to bring awareness of diminishing water quantity, as well as remind us of our responsibility to protect the water for our future. Mandamin was honoured with the Lieutenant Governor’s Ontario Heritage Award for Excellence in Government in February. Also in February, First Nation representatives along with the Government of Canada’s delegation attended the Session of the U.N. Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights in Switzerland to testify on issues of water quality on-reserve. During the testimony, the Government committed to bringing the quality of on-reserve water comparable to off-reserve in five years time. “I intend to hold Canada to that commitment, as should all Canadians,” said Regional Chief Day. “According to recent estimates, almost $200 million is required to reach that goal, and I will be looking for that reflected in the federal budget released later today.” On this Water Day, Regional Chief Day urges all Canadians to pay close attention and hold federal and provincial governments to protecting our waters. “We all have a shared responsibility to the land and water. Mother Earth has done all that she can to provide us and our future generation with the means to live happy and healthy lives. Now it is time that we share our gratitude by keeping her resources clean. Our future generation is counting on us.” The Chiefs of Ontario is a political forum and a secretariat for collective decision making, action, and advocacy for the 133 First Nation communities located within the boundaries of the province of Ontario, Canada. Follow Chiefs of Ontario on Facebook or Twitter @ChiefsOfOntario.

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