Canada pledges better water for aboriginals amid blockade threat

Sun Jan 13, 2013 3:11pm EST
 

By Russ Blinch

TORONTO (Reuters) - Canada will spend C$330.8 million over the next two years to improve water systems on aboriginal lands, as the Conservative government tries to deal with growing unrest on native reservations.

The government said it will improve water systems in more than 50 First Nation communities on reserves where residents often complain of deplorable infrastructure and housing.

"Our Government is committed to addressing water and wastewater issues on reserves to ensure that First Nations communities have access to safe drinking water," Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Duncan said in a statement.

The announcement followed a meeting between Canadian native leaders and the federal government on Friday, where Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper agreed to pay more attention to the demands of First Nations groups.

Under the banner of "Idle No More," native groups have been blocking roads and railways as well as staging hunger strikes to protest conditions on the reserves.

Some native chiefs have warned that the aboriginal protest movement was prepared to damage the economy unless Ottawa addressed the poor living conditions and high jobless rates facing many of Canada's 1.2 million natives.

Native groups complain that Canada has ignored treaties signed with British settlers and explorers that they say granted native peoples significant rights over their territory.

Ottawa spends about C$11 billion ($11.1 billion) a year on its aboriginal population, but living conditions for many are poor and some reserves have high rates of poverty, addiction, joblessness and suicide.   Continued...

 
Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence (C) takes part in a news conference with supporters outside her teepee on Victoria Island in Ottawa January 4, 2013. REUTERS/Chris Wattie