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Water Today Title December 5, 2022

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Feature

Update 2022/11/16
First Nations

Inclusive Leadership for the Urban Indigenous
Interview with Charlene Lavallee, AMNSIS President



AMNSIS is the Association of Metis, Non and Status Indians Saskatchewan

WT:  What is the mandate of AMNSIS as an Indigenous representative organization, who do you represent?

Lavallee: The mandate of AMNSIS is; we represent all Canadian Constitution Section 35 Indians, Metis, Non-Status and off-reserve Status people and also southern Inuit, it is the only organization that recognizes and unifies our kinship relationships in Saskatchewan. We bring the families together that the Indian Act and other Federal Legislation have disconnected.

 WT:  As you represent the urban Indigenous population in Sask, can you tell us a bit more about this, what is the population of Indigenous in SK, and what is your constituent population?  

Lavallee:  From the 2021 census 187,890 Indigenous people in Saskatchewan. This includes 121,170 Status Indians, of which about 85,000 are living off reserve. The number of Metis in SK at the last census is 62,800.  Non-status are estimated 14% of the population, however, there is no registry for Non-status.  Inuit in SK is 460.  That’s close to 150,000 people fit our constituent profile.

In 2016 the urban Indigenous population was 15% of the total population in Saskatoon, 13% of total population in Regina, 39% of the total population in Prince Albert and 22% of the total population in North Battleford.

AMNSIS includes all urban Indigenous as their constituents. The majority of urban Indigenous have no representation by the AFN, MNS or ITK.

 WT:  This is one of the highest urban Indigenous populations in any part of Canada, matching Ontario, and much higher than Quebec.  What are the issues compelling the urban trend in SK?

Lavallee:  Lack of housing, and or adequate housing, on reserve is the largest factor in the urban Indigenous population. Next would be employment opportunities and access to medical assistance.

 

WT:  Tell us a bit about water issues in your territory.  Are your constituents experiencing recurring drinking water advisories in their towns?   Is access to water a concern in the extreme weather seasons, both hot and cold?  What are the top water-related concerns of your constituents?

Lavallee: Since Covid, all water fountains have been deactivated in public spaces, libraries, schools, leisure facilities, etc. This creates economic barriers for everyone but especially the low income of which the urban Indigenous is a large portion.  Everyone should be able to access drinking water.

Many low-income urban Indigenous families struggle to keep up with their monthly utilities including water.  Often the water bill will be the last to be paid and most likely to be cut off.

Many of the reserves have water issues, be it drinking water advisories or infrastructure issues. There are also many small urban communities that have ongoing drinking water advisories. I used to live in the town of Duck Lake, there are still drinking water advisories occurring there.

 WT:  Do you feel that you have access to the table where water access and water quality management take place in SK?

Lavallee: Access to the tables in relation to water in Saskatchewan is extremely limited, the government of the day is not inclusive, it is a difficult relationship.

 WT:  Can you tell us more about the impact of Daniels v. Canada and UNDRIP on access to clean drinking water, and how this pertains to your kinship network, your constituents? 

Lavallee:  Everyone in Canada believes they have the right to clean drinking water, however, that is not the case.

The Daniels case acknowledges that Metis and Non-Status are “Indian” and are to be recognized in the Canadian Constitution as Indian, and are the fiduciary responsibility of the Federal Government. This ruling has major implications for the federal and provincial governments.  The duty to Consult now extends to a larger group of people in Saskatchewan.  In Saskatchewan there are many historic Metis/Non-Status communities that have been affected by water issues that have never been consulted in the past, the Daniels ruling will mean the provincial governments will have to be more inclusive.

WT:  What would you like to say to the policymakers and water managers, that would help alleviate your water concerns? 

Lavallee:  The policymakers and government need to understand the importance of our waterways.

Many policymakers have absolutely no understanding of them.  The Cumberland Delta as it is known to the locals, also known as the Saskatchewan River Delta, is the largest freshwater river delta in North America and it has been stressed for several years.  The dams are shrinking the delta and the tributaries, that in turn is killing the ecosystem that includes peatlands.  This is happening right now in Saskatchewan.  The local community, scientists, and researchers are trying to have their concerns heard. However, the current provincial government's main interest is mining resources.

WT: Is there anything I have not asked that you want to add?

Lavallee: As a rural person, I am very aware of my water usage, my water comes from a well. I was raised in the city and growing up I took water for granted, we can’t take our natural resources for granted.

WT:  Thank you for doing this.

 









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