By Marc Lalonde
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
The signing of an agreement that puts water and wastewater treatment in Indigenous hands in Nova Scotia is ground-breaking in that it makes the Atlantic First Nations Water Authority the first of its kind in Canada.
The transfer agreement, signed Monday by Potlotek First Nation Chief Wilbert Marshall of the Atlantic First Nations Water Authority, AFNWA CEO Carl Yates, and federal Indigenous Services minister Patty Hajdu, initiates the transfer of responsibility for the operation, maintenance, and capital upgrades of all water and wastewater assets in participating First Nations to the Indigenous-led AFNWA.
The transfer agreement enables First Nations to now officially join the water authority after receiving approval from their community members.
Marshall said he is looking forward to building the water network’s capacity and bringing it up to Canadian standards.
“This has been a long time in the making and we are grateful to the leadership and commitment from our communities to get us to this milestone. We look forward to building capacity and increasing the level of service to standards enjoyed by other residents of Canada,” he said. “We have blazed a trail for others to follow but that is the way of the Wabanaki who have always been first to see the dawn.”
Once complete, the AFNWA will assume responsibility for water and wastewater services for as many as 4,500 households and businesses located in up to 17 participating First Nations.
That number represents about 60 percent of the population of First Nations communities in Atlantic Canada.
The accord signed this week sets out both ISC’s and the AFNWA’s mutual obligations, and accountability.
The government has committed approximately $257 million in funding for this work, including $173 million over 10 years from this year’s budget.
Hajdu said the agreement is an important step in the government’s reconciliation efforts.
“Congratulations to the Atlantic First Nations Water Authority
(AFNWA) on becoming the first Indigenous water and wastewater utility in the country,” she said. “By signing this transfer agreement, we take another step forward in our reconciliation efforts. The work of AFNWA will contribute to safer and healthier First Nations communities in Atlantic Canada and provides a fantastic model for other regions.”
Marc Lalonde is a Local Journalism Initiative Reporter who works with IORI:WASE. The LJI program is federally funded.