As Indigenous communities continue to protest for their rights, sewage and waste management remain a crucial part of the conversation. From several water advisories to environmental protests, Indigenous communities in Canada persist in their fight for safe living areas and resources. Research continues to show that Indigenous communities are disadvantaged in access to safe drinking water and adequate sewage management systems. The Oceans North report have found that Northern communities have less access to critical waste disposal service systems and infrastructure after gathering data from 51 settlements across Inuit Nunangat (Black, 2021). Due to poor waste management in the past, communities have experienced significant pollution in their rivers, land and air (Bharadwaj, 2006). As a result of this, Indigenous people have suffered great harm to their physical and mental health.
Figure 1. Signs about waste reduction in First Nation communities in B.C. (The Conversation, 2022).
Government of Canada and Waste Management
On July 15th, 2021, the Government of Canada created a program called “First Nations Waste Management Initiative.” The program was intended to support Indigenous communities in developing sustainable sewage and waste management systems through modern infrastructure, operations, training, and partnerships (The Government of Canada, 2021). Funding was made readily available for many waste management activities, including the construction of transfer stations, engineered landfills in remote and isolated communities, and waste awareness and education programming (The Government of Canada, 2021). The groups that are eligible to apply include the First Nations and Tribal Councils (The Government of Canada, 2021). Despite the Canadian Government’s attempt at prioritizing the safety and efficiency of waste management systems, Indigenous communities still struggle with poor water quality and inadequate waste management systems.
Figure 2. Rankin Inlet landfill on fire (Kivalliq News, 2021).
Nuclear Waste Sites in Deep River, Ontario
The Near Surface Disposal Facility (NSDF) has been proposed to build a nuclear waste site near the Ottawa River near Algonquin Anishinaabe lands (Byers and Gourdon, 2023). The site is said to span across 16 hectares and store up to 1 million cubic meters of waste (Byers and Gourdon, 2023). The waste site has accumulated unwavering disapproval from Algonquin First Nations, contrasting with the 140 municipalities in Quebec and Ontario that support the waste site. The waste facility is set to negatively affect watersheds, ecosystems, and national reconciliation efforts in Canada. If the waste facility affects the watersheds, it also has an impact on the waste management and water filtration systems. As a response to the situation, the Canadian Nuclear Laboratories (CNL) made an Environmental Impact Statement, saying “he new NSDF would “enable the remediation of historically contaminated lands and legacy waste management areas, as well as the decommissioning of outdated infrastructure to facilitate the Chalk River Laboratories site revitalization” (Byers and Gourdon, 2023). While concerns are still being expressed, there is no certainty on what the future of the NDSF will hold, especially in regards to water and waste management systems.
Figure 3. First Nations region experiencing symptoms of Mercury poisoning (CBC News, 2019).
University of Guelph and Water Sanitation Problems
The University of Guelph published a study in May 2023, reporting on the lack of safe drinking water and sanitation issues within Indigenous communities. Not only is safe drinking water necessary for consumption and cooking, but it is also necessary for waste and sewage management. UofG researcher Heather Murphy stated that “Systemic racism and social exclusion are to blame for a drinking water and sanitation crisis in high-income countries (HICs)” (University of Guelph, 2023). Murphy further attributed the lack of access to safe drinking water to three factors: systemic racism, infrastructure funding, and housing ownership. For systemic racism, Murphy declared that “historically marginalized people and low-income communities are more likely to lack access to safe water and sanitation” (University of Guelph, 2023). For infrastructure financing and property ownership, Murphy states that “linking property to water and sanitation services is a policy choice that disadvantages groups including migrants, people living in poverty and people experiencing homelessness or in unstable housing” (University of Guelph, 2023).