I was listening to “Because News” on CBC radio a few months ago, and Joe Mimran (the founder of Joe Fresh) was talking about Canada and said “We are blessed to be in this country…Yeah, we’ve got problems, and yeah, we could do things better, but when you look around at all these other countries, I’m telling you we’re lucky.”
Candy Palmeter (a CBC broadcaster) interjected to say, “You wouldn’t say that if you were born and raised on [an Indigenous reserve]. I love this country as well, but for so many people the experience of living in Canada is not that…. When you’re into your second decade of needing to boil water to take a shower or to brush your teeth you don’t have that same feeling about this country.”
I was so glad for her ability to be bold in that moment and to interrupt the conversation to call attention to a serious issue in our country, and an issue that is often overlooked. Water rights, in particular for indigenous communities is something that the National Youth Project, an initiative that invites Anglican and Lutheran youth from across Canada to learn about and fundraise for a particular issue, has been focused on for the past 4 years.
This project, Right to Water, encourages young people to deepen their understanding of issues related to water rights, to work to develop relationships between indigenous and non-indigenous people in their own communities, and to raise money to help outfit homes in Pikangikum with clean water and wastewater services.
Pikangikum is a small Indigenous community in North Western Ontario where about 95% of homes don’t have water. This means that they need to use outhouses to go to the bathroom and go to community holding tanks to get water for cooking and cleaning. The work to outfit homes is being done through a partnership between the Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund (PWRDF) and Habitat for Humanity Manitoba.
In December, I had the opportunity to visit Pikangikum with the Executive Director of PWRDF, the Vice President of Habitat Man
itoba, and a fellow member of PWRDFs Youth Council. We went to meet the Band Council of Pikangikum, to begin to get to know some of the people there, and to see some of the homes that would be outfitted with all of the fixtures and fittings for water and wastewater.
It’s hard to find a word to describe the feeling of being in the same country that I feel like I know and love, and to see people living such a different reality than me. To see people going outside in a serious snowstorm (no exaggeration – our flight out was cancelled that day) to get to the holding tank for some water, and to see how normal a part of their day to day lives this is, is something that I am still wrestling with, and probably will for a long time.
The work of Habitat Manitoba and PWRDF in Pikangikum isn’t the whole solution – it would take decades and millions of dollars for them to outfit every home with water – but the lives that it will impact will be so greatly improved for having access to water in their homes. And the advocacy that is happening alongside this work, will hopefully call the government to action to help take care of this community, helping Pikangikum be part of PWRDF’s vision of a truly just, healthy and peaceful world