By Shari Narine
Alberta has pledged to work with the federal government and First Nations to address access to safe drinking water.
Calling the number of boil water advisories in place in First Nations “shameful,” the speech from the throne, delivered March 2 by Lt. Gov. Lois Mitchell, devoted a section to “working with Indigenous communities” and specified safe drinking water as a goal.
According to the Health Canada website, 13 First Nations in Alberta – there are 45 First Nations in the province – had boil water or do not consume water advisories issued in 2016. There is still eight boil water advisories in place.
“Working with First Nations and the federal government, your government will address the critical need for access to clean drinking water on reserves, thereby making real process on fulfilling the principles of the United Nations Declaration on the Right s of Indigenous Peoples,” said Mitchell, who on Thursday afternoon opened the third session under the NDP government.
Premier Rachel Notley’s government has committed to implementing UNDRIP. Shortly after her election in May 2015, Notley directed her Cabinet to review the policies, programs and legislation in their ministries and make the changes required based on the United Nations declaration.
“Indigenous people in Alberta need to see concrete action that makes their lives better,” said Mitchell.
The government has also committed to moving forward with agreements with Treaty 6 and 7. Presently there are agreements in placed between the province and Treaty 8 and the Métis Nation of Alberta.
In February, the province signed a 10-year framework agreement with the Métis Nation of Alberta.
In a newsletter sent out to MNA members, President Audrey Poitras said the new agreement “goes further than any of our other previous agreements with Alberta … (and) includes explicit commitments to pursue discussions on key rights-related issues such as harvesting and Métis consultation policy.”
The agreement will also see the province playing a role in discussion between the MNA and Canada in the implementation of the Daniels’ decision.
The province also has an agreement in place with Treaty 8.
The province applauded approvals for the Trans Mountain Pipeline and Line 3 as much needed steps toward economic recovery and added it would continue to work “thoughtfully and respectfully” with the Liberal government, Indigenous communities, and nation-wide elected officials toward the Energy East pipeline proposal.
“Our energy industry, Indigenous communities, environmentalists, and ordinary Albertans came together in common purpose, showing, once and for all, that a strong economy and a clean environment can—and must—go hand in hand,” said Mitchell.
Other priority areas for the province as outlined in the Speech from the Throne include
more frontline nurse practitioners to care for homeless women and youth in Calgary and Edmonton;
investment in mental health care with specific programs for Albertans who have experienced trauma and for Indigenous communities, as well as youth, children, and families;
the introduction of legislation focused on improving child death reviews;
continuing to help and protect victims of sexual and domestic violence with the introduction of legislation to eliminates barriers to pursuing justice;
and repairing and building more affordable housing units.
“Important work remains to improve relations with Indigenous communities and people,” said Mitchell.
In a preview of the upcoming Legislative session, House Leader Brian Mason said Wednesday that “we’re going to continue to pursue an agenda of inclusion and establishing respectful, equal partnerships with the First Nations and the Métis Nation and that’s going to remain an important priority for our government.”