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Working to strengthen Indigenous women’s right to water and sanitation

by pmnationtalk on May 8, 2024374 Views

Working to strengthen Indigenous women’s right to water and sanitation

Thunder Bay, ON – ONWA would like to thank Mr. Pedro Arrojo-Agudo, United Nations’ Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights to Safe Drinking Water and Sanitation, for his country visit to Canada on April 8-20, 2024.

On April 11, 2024, ONWA met with Special Rapporteur Arrojo-Agudo, in a consultation with civil society organizations and Indigenous organizations and representatives, to discuss the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation and how water and sanitation issues in Canada impact our communities. His visit aimed at understanding and assessing Canada’s efforts to implement the human rights to water and sanitation. As an outcome of his visit, the Special Rapporteur provided an End of Mission Statement, with a more comprehensive report to be presented to the United Nations Human Rights Council at its 57th session in September 2024. His End of Mission Statement reflects many issues and opportunities that ONWA raised in the consultation and through our written submission.

As stewards of our lands and waterways, Indigenous women are at the forefront of action defending their water systems and territories from irreversible harm and frequently face violence as a result. We shared this message in our meeting with the Special Rapporteur and appreciate that it was reinforced in his End of Mission Statement: “Indigenous Peoples’ rights to peaceful protest and freedom of expression have been breached through criminalization, repression, and persecution, undermining the trust and credibility on the reconciliation commitment.” Further to this, the Special Rapporteur supported the recommendations made by the Special Rapporteur on the rights of Indigenous Peoples and the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination to stop the criminalization of Indigenous human rights defenders defending their lands and resources from extractive industries and business actors.

ONWA was among many organizations that raised concerns around mercury poisoning from historical and current extractive industries impacting Grassy Narrows First Nation in Ontario. This continues to impact the physical and mental heath, and the lives and culture of the community. We are pleased to see the Special Rapporteur specifically reference the ongoing challenges in Grassy Narrows First Nation and his recommendation to guarantee the effective application of the principle of free prior and informed consent, with full respect to the traditional governance and participation avenues of Indigenous Peoples

While recognizing that Canada is a federation, ONWA asserts that jurisdictional divides increase threats to Indigenous women’s safety and wellbeing. With respect to climate destruction, resource extraction, and poor environmental management, Canada must change the way it engages with Indigenous women’s organizations, as we hold the solutions to the issues that disproportionately affect us. We thank the Special Rapporteur for reiterating Canada’s federal level obligation and responsibility to recognize the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation, noting: “this division of powers cannot blur the federal government’s ultimate obligation to guarantee human rights to drinking water and sanitation throughout the country.”

We would also like to echo concerns raised by other Indigenous organizations around lack of access to water and its implications on sanitation for urban Indigenous community members who are homeless or reside in encampments. Lack of access to water restricts people’s ability to wash themselves, including their clothes, and prevents proper wound care and other sanitary practices, such as hand washing. This also inhibits Indigenous women’s ability to engage in proper self-care practices during their moon time. Urban Indigenous women are five times more likely to experience homelessness than non-Indigenous women, and this has significant impacts on their physical, emotional, and spiritual wellbeing and safety.

ONWA would like to thank the Special Rapporteur for acknowledging that it “is important to pay special attention to the obligation established by the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), domesticated in Canada by the current UNDRIP Act”. Indigenous women must be consulted and engaged in the matters that impact their traditional lands and waterways – this is our right, enshrined in UNDRIP.

Throughout all of history Indigenous women have cared for the environment and Mother Earth because we know that when she is safe and well, we are all safe and well. ONWA will continue to advocate for Mother Earth at the local, provincial, federal, and international level.

For more information and media inquiries, contact: 

Andre Morriseau, Communications Manager
Ontario Native Women’s Association (ONWA)


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