More than two dozen University of Manitoba researchers from nine faculties are trying to make a difference on Manitoba’s First Nations, where clean running water and safe sewage control are not something residents can take for granted.
The university’s new Centre for Human Rights Research, led by Karen Busby of the Faculty of Law, is spearheading a series of research projects aimed at speeding up improvements to water and sanitation services.
About 1,400 Manitoba First Nation homes don’t have taps and flush toilets. A total of 27 Manitoba First Nations have a water or wastewater treatment system at high risk of creating health, safety or environmental problems.
“As a university, we are committed to being part of the solution when serious challenges are identified in our province,” said University of Manitoba president David Barnard. “We need to reach out and collaborate with community partners, including First Nations, to find innovative solutions.”
The new Water Rights Research Consortium is a partnership between the University of Manitoba, Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak (MKO), the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs and other university and community partners.
The chiefs of the 30 MKO First Nations of northern Manitoba have directed Grand Chief David Harper to involve MKO’s health secretariat, natural resources secretariat and housing and infrastructure program in research partnerships that will support recognition of the fundamental human right of all First Nations citizens to have access to clean running water and adequate wastewater services. In July, MKO also asked the provincial and territorial premiers, as the Council of the Federation, to amend the council’s Water Charter to recognize that access to clean running water is a basic human right of all Canadians.
“MKO looks forward to working in partnership with the researchers contributing to the University of Manitoba’s Centre for Human Rights Research to help achieve recognition of the human right of all Canadians to clean running water,” said Grand Chief David Harper, whose home community of Garden Hill has many homes without running water.
“Accredited research can contribute to a more fulsome dialogue that will hopefully yield tangible solutions,” said AMC Grand Chief Derek Nepinak. “The Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs will continue to encourage interested Manitoba First Nations to become involved in this project.”
Research projects under development include:
- engaging First Nations high school students in testing their drinking water for contaminants, including in the University of Manitoba’s high-tech labs;
- evaluating potential public advocacy strategies;
- exploring whether court challenges and other law reform could help achieve the goal of running water and sanitation systems;
- assessing how poor water and wastewater services affect health, economic status, education and the environment in First Nations; and
- a cost-benefit analysis of improving water and wastewater services.
An existing research project on First Nations health and housing may also be expanded to include the design of sustainable water and wastewater systems.
Barnard said the research aligns with many of the university’s strategic priorities: human rights, sustainable northern communities, public health, Indigenous achievement and even culture and creativity. The researchers hope to use video to help First Nations tell their stories.
The president said the university will also consider ways to engage undergraduate students in volunteer work that might benefit the affected First Nations.
University of Manitoba Students’ Union vice-president (external) Julie Rempel said UMSU is already working to increase awareness among students of the deplorable water, sanitation and housing conditions that affect many Northern Manitoba communities-the homes of many University of Manitoba students and their families.
More information is available at: http://www.chrr.info/water-rights
For media interviews, please contact:
Helen Fallding, Centre for Human Rights Research, University of Manitoba, at: 204-474-6156, or email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Inez Vystrcil-Spence, health director, Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak, at: 204-232-1184
Charmagne de Veer, communications coordinator, Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, at: 204-987-4148, or email: email@example.com