Academic journal article British Journal of Canadian Studies

Water (In)security in Canada: National Identity and the Exclusion of Indigenous peoples/L' (In)sécurité De L'eau Au Canada: L'identité Nationale et L'exclusion Des Peuples Indigènes

Academic journal article British Journal of Canadian Studies

Water (In)security in Canada: National Identity and the Exclusion of Indigenous peoples/L' (In)sécurité De L'eau Au Canada: L'identité Nationale et L'exclusion Des Peuples Indigènes

Article excerpt

Water in Canada

In virtually all Canadian cities and towns today, people enjoy piped water that is monitored and treated by government authorities, an indicator of water security. Water security is defined as

ensuring freshwater, coastal, and related ecosystems are protected and improved; that sustainable development and political stability are promoted; that every person has access to adequate safe water at an affordable cost to lead a healthy and productive life; and that the vulnerable are protected from the risks of water related hazards. (World Water Council 2000)

This is not to say that problems never occur; in fact, a water contamination crisis in Walkerton, Ontario in 2000 led to 2,300 incidences of illness and seven fatalities; an enquiry followed (Hrudey et al. 2003). It is worth noting that the Walkerton crisis resulted in large part from 'the pervasive culture of complacency' which came about because there have been so few drinking water crises in the developed world (Hrudey et al. 2003). 'Each province and territory in Canada faces distinct water security challenges as a function of its own historical, political, socioeconomic, and hydrological circumstances' (de Loë et al. 2007: iv). Yet in spite of occasional water security crises like Walkerton, there is a widespread and generally met expectation in Canada that clean water will flow from household taps. With the exception of many Indigenous communities, piped water is virtually universal in Canada, with the result that non-Indigenous people 'have a lot of faith in their water supplies' (White, Murphy, and Spence 2012: 10).

So it might be tempting to think that a country the size of Canada is protected from such basic concerns as access to potable water. After all, Canada has approximately 20 per cent of the world's total freshwater resources (Environment Canada 2012). As a result, Canadians feel that the country's water supply is limitless. However, less than half of Canada's water - about 7 per cent of the global supply - is 'renewable', with most of it consisting of fossil water in lakes, underground aquifers, and glaciers (Environment Canada 2012). In addition, recent research shows that, despite public perception, 'The security of water quality and quantity in Canada may no longer be taken for granted', especially in small and rural communities (Bakker and Cook 2011: 276). Because of water's crucial role in life, health, and community development and because Canada, in effect, does not have unlimited water resources, which increases the value of water, water becomes a useful vehicle through which to analyse power relations. Another relevant factor is the commitment of Canadian federal and provincial governments, especially Ottawa under former Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper, to neo-liberalism and the market. Neo-liberalism is a set of economic principles that have gained traction in the west since the early 1970s (Martinez and García 1998), but the term has multiple meanings (Ganti 2014). It is, for instance, a development model with altered roles for labour, capital and the state compared with prior models, with important economic, social and political implications (Boas and Grans-Morse 2009). It is also a political ideology which privileges market exchange rather than other ethical belief systems (Treanor 2005). In addition, neo-liberalism is a governance model, which promotes the concept of a self-regulating free market, with associated values of competition and self-interest, as the primary model for effective and efficient government (Steger and Roy 2010). As governments shrink their responsibilities, society moves from government to governance which negatively impacts marginalised groups (MacDonald 2011; Choudry 2007; Martinez and García 1998) - including Indigenous communities. Accordingly, Indigenous people have resisted neo-liberalism (MacDonald 2011; Choudry 2007).

In this article I argue that Indigenous exclusion, an outgrowth of the settler myths that are woven into Canadian identity, is the bedrock factor in maintaining Indigenous water insecurity. …

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