Witnessing Justice Denied—The Fight for Safe Drinking Water in Indigenous and Rural Communities in Canada
The shocking truth about Canada’s ongoing water crisis and the government’s failure to provide safe drinking water to First Nations communities.
In Water Confidential, Susan Blacklin (formerly Sue Peterson) revisits the important work of her late ex-husband, Dr. Hans Peterson. Beginning in 1996, Peterson, growing frustrated with his work in government funded research in Saskatchewan, brought attention to the desperate need for equal access to safe drinking water after a health inspector encouraged him to visit the Yellow Quill First Nation. In response to the issue, he developed biological technology for effective water treatment, still in use today.
Peterson and Blacklin joined forces with scientists from around the world to establish the registered national charity, the Safe Drinking Water Foundation. The SDWF developed accredited education programs for schools across Canada, while also educating the general public and Water Treatment Operators from Indigenous communities. Advocacy became a high priority when they discovered a variety of challenges to their mission, including questionable government practices that were blocking the reality of safe drinking water in First Nations communities. As committed activists, it became their life’s work to ensure that access to Peterson’s technology was available to all rural and First Nations communities.
Thirty years later, the majority of First Nations communities in Canada continue to face atrocious health issues as a result of unsafe drinking water. Blacklin, now retired, shares her deep concerns at the indifference, corruption, and lack of due diligence from all levels of government in response to the safe water movement. She echoes the work of the SDWF stating that Canada needs to implement federal drinking water regulations, and that a responsible government should use rather than abuse science when accurately determining Boil Water Advisories and addressing the deplorable state of access to potable water.
In this passionate and timely memoir, Blacklin shares her experiences with fundraising, activism and lobbying work. She reveals the complexities of negotiating between cultures, communities and the provincial and federal government. Blacklin emphasizes that ensuring safe drinking water to each and every First Nations community should be the top priority toward reconciliation with Indigenous people of Canada.
“Susan Blacklin's memoir, Water Confidential, should be required reading for all Canadians. With an inside look at how the system snuffs out innovation, this fine, thought-provoking book speaks the generally unknown truths about long-standing water injustices. Canadians should be very concerned—particularly those of us committed to real reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples. Her concerns and critical analysis also apply to many other Canadian communities—as she shows, many of the water quality problems that trouble Indigenous communities haunt many other rural water supplies without public awareness or appropriate treatment. In Water Confidential, Susan documents how the SDWF [Safe Drinking Water Foundation] was built with grit and great effort, with personal and family sacrifice. With great honesty, she shows how various levels of government and other vested interests kept it from achieving widespread acceptance. This is a grand contribution to ecological and Indigenous justice.”
—Harvey Scott, PhD, Professor Emeritus U of Alberta, Elders Council, Keepers of the Water
“An incredible story of courage, commitment, passion and adventure. Susan Blacklin and her late partner Hans Peterson shone a light on the appalling drinking water and sanitation crisis in First Nations communities and set out to right this wrong. They did not do this from some lofty high rise office tower in Ottawa or Edmonton but on the ground in the communities where people were suffering. I highly recommend this exciting and moving book.”
—Maude Barlow, social justice author and activist
“Dr. Hans Peterson was an ally to the nation. Our message to other First Nations Leaders is to search for those allies, not just consultants, but experts that care because they will go the distance for your people. Our message to Canadians is to be those allies because if First Nations communities thrive, so does Canada."
—Chief John Machiskinic, Yellow Quill First Nation
“Sue has written a hard-hitting, from-the-heart description of the lengths taken, obstacles overcome, and sacrifices made, along what was an extraordinary, meandering path to establish access to the source of life in the setting of gross neglect and overt discrimination. That Hans and Sue had to undertake what they did is an indictment of Canada’s attitude to Indigenous communities, even when it comes to basic human rights. Unfortunately, the story and struggle are far from over… I (and we all should) welcome the publication of this important and very timely book, providing such a unique perspective on the true Herculean effort it has taken so far to get to where we are in safe water provision in Canada.”
—Dr. John O’Connor, family physician, and passionate health advocate, Northern Alberta