Chris Stewart APTN interviews Mario Swampy about water on March 23, 2017
Chris: Can I get your reaction to the one hundred million maximum from the Alberta Government? Mario: Yes it’s exciting to know that the provincial government wants to get involved. It’s another thing to look at the details of that budget and how that breaks down. Chris: Are you skeptical in any way that they may want something inreturn? Mario: I think the one concern we have, specifically for Samson Cree Nation is, it’s one thing to mention providing safe and clean drinking water and it’s another to talk about the jurisdiction over water and the resources. So those are two completely separate conversations to have. Chris: They say it this has nothing to do with jurisdiction they just want people to have clean drinking water. Can you take them at face value for that?Mario: Not necessarily and the reason I say that is there’s been an attempt to regionalize the drinking water systems on First Nations which would address some homes but not all homes. Many of our homes, especially in the rural area are on wells and cisterns and so they’re the ones experiencing the boil water advisories. So if we just take care of the homes tied into the regional line it still neglects those homes in the country. Chris: Do you have the numbers of homes that are on the advisories? Mario: According to our Maskwacis health statistics we have one hundred and thirty six homes on the boil water advisory. Chris: Is that just for Samson? Mario: Yes just for Samson. When the Prime Minister made the commitment to end all boil water advisories in First Nations there were one hundred First Nations identified. Samson Cree Nation was one of them. The only location that had been identified to be on a boil water advisory was a church that was out in a rural part of our nation. So that was good that they took care of that. Again, it neglected to address the other one hundred and thirty six homes that are on a boil water advisory. So for them they can check a box that says ‘Yes we have taken care of the boil water advisory,’ but that’s just on one location. Chris: Samson is still listed on the government website as being on a boil water advisory since 2010. I talked to a member here and she has been on a boil water advisory her entire life. How does that happen? Mario: Well we’ve inherited a lot of challenges especially when it comes to water. I think one of the things Samson Cree Nation is doing is we’re bringing different people to the table. Not only is it a political issue but we have health to consider; it’s a legal issue in the courts. So there’s so many facets to water when we discuss the boil water advisory. So one of the approaches we want to take is bring the right people to the table and as we do that we start addressing these problems holistically because we have to consider the legal side, the political side, the technical side and even the spiritual side. As good as that sounds it’s still a frustration for the home owners who are on the boil water advisory. And you have limited resources, limited capacity to address all those areas. So it’s something we’re taking a look at and figuring out how can we strategically begin to address these issues and begin to systematically improving infrastructure and getting the funding where it needs to go so home owners such as the one you interviewed, that concern would be addressed. Chris: So most of the water in Samson is drinkable it’s just that the wells are on the boil water advisory? Mario: Yes. The homes that are on the system that are treated through the water, that problem is being addressed. We have our water operators and they’re working on that. So yes your right. It’s the rural homes in the country that are on wells that are on a boil water advisory. Chris: What would you like to say to the minister Feehan about the boil water advisory? Mario: The thing I appreciate about Minister Feehan is he has a willingness to sit down and work with Samson Cree Nation. One of the concerns we have always had in the past is when decisions are made about us without consultation, that becomes problematic. As a leader of a First Nation; not other people, whether it be provincial or municipal, we have to consider all the constitutional issues that come with water. As a First Nations leader these are the things I have to keep in the back of my mind every time water is discussed is our Treaty right and Inherit right, something we’ve never ceded, something we’ve never given up. So when there’s going to be solutions that are being proposed to us rather than just prescribed a Band-Aid solution, as that’s sometimes been the case, we want to sit down at the decision making table and be a part of that solution moving forward because ultimately for us, we want sustainable solutions that are going to be beneficial for all our members and something that’s long lasting. Chris: Is there anything you would like to add? Are you optimistic that this will happen? Mario: I have to continually remain optimistic as a leader of our nation. My role is to seek the best solutions moving forward. I know the frustration that exists out there. When it comes to the political side of things, it tends to get bogged down and you have to go through these different bureaucratic processes. So one of the strategies that we’ve been taking is how do we get to the decision making tables so that the solutions we come up with are immediate and long term. That’s a lot easier said than done because we do have different levels of government that we have to talk too. Again, one of the challenges at the First Nation level is when it comes to jurisdiction over water. We go back a long way when we talk about the natural resource transfer agreement. That is a controversial piece of legislation that First Nations really have trouble with and will continue to have trouble with. How do we start getting to the table and rather going through these posturing exercises where we all leave the table frustrated because no one’s giving. So it’s how do we as leaders respect that Treaty relationship and say, ‘As partners in this Treaty agreement we have, what can we do to start implementing engineering solutions, technical solutions that are going to help our people now and into the future.’ I’m going to continue to repeat that as a leader because that’s ultimately my goal. Mario: Every Canadian citizen when they go to turn on the tap doesn’t have to worry if the water is safe or not. Except if you’re a First Nations member. We can go into all the history behind that and the struggles we have but I would rather look forward. We’ve all inherited the state we are in now but we don’t have to continue on in that state. If we have willing partners both in the provincial and federal side to begin to move beyond that then those are the avenues that I want to do down. Rather than spinning our tires and getting upset about all the injustices that exist, let’s move beyond that and find real tangible solutions so that the one hundred thirty six in my First Nation are being addressed immediately. Chris: Anything you would like to add? Mario: I’m going to remain optimistic. For me, we have brilliant minds in our First Nations. There’s greener technology, there’s people coming to the table with different ideas and thinking outside the box. I think as long as we empower our people to find solutions and to come to the table with solutions instead of coming to the table empty handed and angry and frustrated, we have to come to the table with solutions and sitting down and saying, ‘How do we figure this out and what can we do to move forward?’ I’ve had the privilege of speaking on this topic at different venues and often what I’ve found is people have been encouraged by it and also willing to support it in any way they can whether they’ve been engineers or working with different organizations because I think we’re in a day and age when we want to start looking for solutions. To start finding strategies that really move us forward. We have to move past the problem and start focusing on the solution. Chris: So water is your portfolio as a councilor? Mario: Yes. One thing I would like to add is that water for us, the word is ‘Nipiy’. That’s derived from two Cree terms. Niya-pimatsowin, what that means is I Am Life. So we understand the sacredness of water and its importance and value. Again, I will always reiterate that. It’s not my job to negotiate water for my people, it’s our role to protect that right we have Inherently and through Treaty. Chris: Perfect. Thank you so much.