Indigenous Canadians in Water Crisis as Nestlé Drains a Million Gallons a Day From Their Land

Believe it or not, the bottled water industry is one of the worst contributors to plastic pollution, due to the single-use bottles that usually end up as microplastics in the oceans.

Moreover, even the reuse of plastic water bottles is dangerous, since many plastic types leach toxic chemicals into water over some time.  Therefore, quitting plastic bottles is a huge step towards a healthier environment and a safer planet.

Yet, it could also urge water bottle corporations such as Nestlé to stop using natural resources which many people quite close to home barely get access to as it is.

According to The Council of Canadians, clean water is of highest importance, and the lack of clean, safe drinking water in First Nations is one of the greatest violations of the UN-recognized human rights to water and sanitation.

In 2005, the former Nestlé CEO Peter Brabeck-Letmathe said that he finds it extreme that water should be declared a human right, as from another perspective, it is a grocery product, so it should have a market value. 

However, after this infamous statement, the company tried to change the tune and stated that water is a resource we all share, so the only way to address the complex challenges associated with water stewardship is to work alongside neighbors and other stakeholders with common interests.

Yet, the reality is that numerous people suffer from a severe drought of potable water, and a lot of them live only minutes from suburbs with perfectly functional water and plumbing systems.

Many are forced to drive into nearby cities to purchase jugs of water for bathing and water bottles for drinking and cooking. On the other hand, nearby, Nestlé is pumping millions of liters of fresh spring water to bottle and sell.

Sixty percent of the world’s lakes are located in Canada, which is a fifth of the world’s fresh water, so it has always been an attractive target for brands like Aquafina, Dasani and Nestlé, the world’s biggest bottler.

Numerous people lamented about the negative effects of drought, which has dried up all the wetlands in the community and has reduced the local populations of salmon, trout, pike, and pickerel.

According to Dawn Martin-Hill, an indigenous studies professor at McMaster University, who has lived on the Grand River reserve for 35 years, and has recently received access to drinkable tap water, the lack of hygienic water sources has led to severe health issues in her community.

Also, Lokarenhtha Thomas, says that the lack of clean water caused rashes in her infant son, and she hasn’t had access to running water since she was 16, while none of her 5 children have ever lived in a house with plumbing.

Some of her neighbors have paid thousand dollars in order to be connected to a community but afterward found that the water was too polluted to drink due to sewage contamination from septic beds.

In 2013, the community received a $41 million grant which was intended to cover the costs for building a state-of-the-art water treatment plant. Yet,  it did not cover the cost of plumbing, so fewer than 10% of homes are connected to it, and the rest live without having any water at all or have tap water that is too polluted to drink.

Now, there are currently 50 indigenous communities in Canada with long-term boil water advisories, so approximately 63,000 people have not had clean water to drink for at least a year, and some for decades. Numerous health issues have resulted from the lack of water, such as hepatitis A, gastroenteritis, scabies, Giardia lamblia (“beaver fever”), ringworm and acne.

Yet, the Canadian government claims that the number of long-term drinking water advisories has been reduced from over 100 in 2016 to 57 in early 2019, even though numerous community members and social justice advocates maintain that the progress is much slower.

Furthermore, a CBC News report in March, 2019, showed that big-name brands including Coca-Cola’s Dasani, have received multiple complaints about bottled water smelling “foul”, “like old socks”, “urine” and even “like diarrhea”, which was found to be due to facilities operating under “filthy conditions”.

Yet, Elizabeth Griswold, executive director of the Canadian Bottled Water Association, reported that all the issues were resolved, and the bottled water is completely safe.

Yet, we still have the power and we can change things. Probably the best way to fight against this problem is to stop purchasing bottled water.