Okanagan Indian Band suing feds for access to clean water

Canadian government not serious about safe drinking water for First Nations communities, Chief says

The Okanagan Indian Band (OKIB) has filed a suit on Thursday, Aug. 15, in Federal Court against the federal government over its failure to ensure the safety of drinking water.

“The federal government has put the lives of our people at risk,” Okanagan Chief Byron Louis said.

The water systems, which were constructed in the 1970s according to standards outlined by Indian Affairs Canada, rely on groundwater wells that supply untreated water to hundreds of residents.

The wastewater from the affected homes goes into septic fields which may be contaminating groundwater.

READ MORE: Vernon mountain biking advocacy group wins provincial volunteer award

READ MORE: More downtime announced for Tolko Armstrong, Lumby divisions

All of the drinking water systems were ranked an eight out of 10 by an expert assessment commissioned by the government in 2010. It found fecal coliforms as a significant source of contamination. In 2017, a joint water management study estimated the upgrades would cost around $45 million.

The OKIB said at present, the largest drinking water system is under a “do not consume” order.

OKIB has worked in collaboration with the federal government to find a solution, but after nine years the government has only upgraded one of seven systems in the OKIB territory.

“We have lost faith in a system that I would characterize as negligent,” Chief Byron Louis said. “We are stuck in limbo between federal policy that underfunds our system and provincial infrastructure resources we cannot access.”

“The federal government is simply not serious about safe drinking water for First Nations communities,” he said. “We have to act. We are concerned that it will take a crisis like death or sickness from contamination before the federal government takes any action.”

The suit seeks confirmation that First Nations communities have the same access to safe, clean drinking water as the rest of Canada—compelling the federal government to ensure water infrastructure complies to safety standards.

“This is unacceptable in a developed country,” Chief Louis said. “If you can turn on the tap in Kelowna and not worry the water is safe, it should be the same in our community.”

“It’s a health and equality issue—one that the federal government can’t ignore any longer,” he said.

READ MORE: Bears in South Okanagan searching for food before hibernating


@caitleerach
Caitlin.clow@kelownacapnews.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

 

The Okanagan Indian Band has filed a law suit against the federal government after years of urging leaders to improve outdated infrastructure and gain access to clean drinking water. (files)

Just Posted

A variety of art coming to Revelstoke gallery this fall

A members’ show in December will act as a gift market

Roots & Blues announces ticket giveaway ahead of online festival

The festival is streaming free online this year, but those who pre-register can win passes for 2021.

Molotov cocktails thrown at Revelstoke home in arson attempt

The flames were extinguished before they spread

Stay Revy launches despite pandemic

The new vacation rental management company works with legal vacation rentals

Revelstokian raises money for mental health

A Revelstoke local recently raised $2,600 for mental health services at Community… Continue reading

371 British Columbians battling COVID-19, health officials confirm

Thursday (Aug. 6) saw a second straight day of nearly 50 new confirmed cases

COLUMN: Listen to those who know about COVID-19

Accurate information is essential when understanding the pandemic

Penticton man wakes to wildfire, forced to evacuate

A wildfire sparked off the side of Highway 97 near Penticton on Thursday

Anti-gang cops probe Kelowna’s street-level drug trade over B.C. Day long weekend

CFSEU’s Gang Enforcement Team was deployed to Kelowna last weekend

Answers to 5 common questions facing families for the COVID-19 school year

COVID-19 protocols are likely to vary even more at the school board level, and even and school-to-school.

Man allegedly wielding knife at Kelowna Superstore arrested

The 29-year-old Kelowna man has been released on strict conditions for a future court date

Visitors and non-residents entering closed remote B.C. First Nation’s territories

With limited resources, they say they don’t have any authority or power to enforce the closures

UBC loses appeal on Fisheries Act convictions

BC Supreme Court upholds order to pay $1.55-million fine

Masks to be mandatory on BC Transit, TransLink starting Aug. 24

Both BC Transit and TransLink made the announcement in separate press releases on Thursday

Most Read