World Water Day has come and gone with a number of media reports about how important this “blue gold” resource is to all of us. Without water we all will die.
For decades, governments have made clean, accessible, safe and inexpensive access to water a priority, except on First Nations reserves in Canada.
About 100 First Nations communities live under a near permanent boil-water advisory in Canada, and have been living that way for years.
Aside from the major inconvenience of having to always spend the time and energy to boil water for any use related to consumption, the slightest deviation can mean that individuals become very sick.
After all the billions and billions of dollars dumped into Indian Affairs over the years, you would think that decent water supply services could have been provided in most aboriginal communities by now. And let’s not go on about how this was a tribe and council responsibility — the dominant culture has the technology and science to save lives and liberate aboriginal people from hours of boiling water. Imagine if you had to boil your water every day for all your needs — for just for a safe, refreshing drink.
Imagine if you had to put up with that kind of treatment?
And just imagine your community without a public library! Yes, that too is the state of most First Nations reserves.
No public library!
The public library concept dates back to ancient history, but it proliferated with the development of the printing press and concepts of social justice and equal access to education for all.
Philanthropists like Andrew Carnagie went out of their way to create libraries or endowment funds to ensure that learning would be open and accessible for all.
Spiritual movements like the Wesleyans and the Christian Scientists, as well as women’s liberation groups over the years established more informal learning opportunities with “reading rooms.”
And again in Canada, we see a tragic injustice.
Billions of dollars dumped into a variety of programs for aboriginal people. No public library on the reserve.
That just doesn’t make any sense, unless the idea is to hobble this group of people, deny them access to the broader world of ideas, and then frown upon them for not being more literate, more educated, more integrated in society.
Aboriginal languages were oral, not written. The early traders and missionaries developed most written forms of aboriginal languages.
Again, the dominant society had the tools, the money and the appreciation of the power of the written word to enlighten, motivate, inspire and educate people. But they didn’t make a serious effort to provide a simple library service to the First Nations people who had traded their land in good faith for a pack of lies from the white man.
It makes me sick to think that I grew up in a house 10 minutes from Hobbema, surrounded by books and magazines of all descriptions that my parents subscribed to, as well as having had regular visits to the local library where they further filled my head with big and small ideas while up the road my aboriginal neighbours had nothing — and still have nothing like a public library.
Deny people water and they weaken or die.
Deny people knowledge and they are powerless to reach their full potential.
We often hear of how aboriginal people should be treated “just like everyone else.”
In this case, the critics are right. No one deserves this kind of special treatment. Why does it still go on?
Michelle Stirling-Anosh is a Ponoka freelance columnist.