Canada | Environment

This Magazine: First Nations suffer from dirtiest water in Canada





"If you were to turn on a tap in the First Nation of Little Salmon Carmacks, Yukon, your cup might run over with gasoline, fecal matter, and worse (yes, there’s worse). It’s been this way for years, at least going as far back as 1991—the first year of comprehensive water testing.

The problems in Little Salmon Carmacks are emblematic of water problems in many First Nation communities across Canada. Drinking water not fit for human consumption has been, and continues to be, endemic in First Nation communities. For northern First Nations problems are made worse by systemic issues rooted deeply in the structure of our government; caught in a jurisdictional no-man’s-land between Indian and Northern Affairs, the territorial governments, and other government departments charged with funding infrastructure and assisting First Nations, their cases get shuffled from one department to another until they are finally dropped.

The Little Salmon Carmacks First Nation is situated next to the non-First Nation municipality of Carmacks, approximately 180 kilometres north of Whitehorse. The self-governing community, home to 400 people, once had two large wells serving the entire community but, as standards were updated, one was declared too dangerous to use and closed. The remaining well serves 96 people; everyone else has to rely on their own, individual wells, each of which provides water to an average of three people.

The village has been on the same boil water advisory since January 2006, though temporary advisories have been issued to certain areas of the town since 2001, and some individual wells have been reporting E. coli and coliform contamination since 1991."

Get the Story:
Why First Nations struggle with some of the country’s dirtiest water (This Magazine 3/1)

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