Safe, reliable water and wastewater services are a human right and the heart of healthy communities. But these rights are denied to many Indigenous communities in Canada. Water services and resources are also under growing pressure to privatize.

The COVID-19 pandemic has spotlighted just how important clean water is to our health and safety. Clean water for hand washing is essential to stop the spread of the virus – something that is almost impossible for Indigenous peoples living in communities with no clean water and overcrowded housing.

Colonization continues to have devastating effects on Indigenous communities. Access to water and sanitation are human rights according to international law, yet many Indigenous communities in Canada have water that’s unsafe to drink or wash with. Some communities have lived with unsafe water for decades. Other First Nations don’t have any functioning water system at all.

Even before the pandemic began in 2020, the federal Liberal government wasn’t on track to meet its commitment to end all boil water advisories in First Nation communities by March 2021. Worse, that plan doesn’t have enough long-term, predictable funding for operations and maintenance to end the crisis.

Indigenous peoples are defending and reclaiming their water and territories, protecting them from discriminatory policies and actions known as environmental racism. It’s a form of systemic racism that disproportionately affects Indigenous, Black and racialized people. Many Indigenous communities rely on water sources that have been harmed by resource development projects or are being threatened by new development going through their territories. Corporate resource extraction, including the bottled water industry, is draining water sources, while Indigenous communities next door don’t have access to safe drinking water.

For these reasons and more, CUPE stands with Indigenous peoples in proclaiming “Water is Life” and recognizing this basic human right for all people. Our union will work towards reconciliation by honoring Indigenous peoples’ role as the stewards and protectors of the waters of their treaty lands and traditional unceded territories.

CUPE has a long history of defending public water and wastewater services. During the COVID-19 pandemic, we must be on the lookout for new threats to our water, including from the Canada Infrastructure Bank (CIB). The Liberal government’s bank of privatization has targeted water and wastewater systems and cash-strapped municipalities and Indigenous communities.

We can stop the spread of water privatization by contracting in. Some local governments are making the choice to end privatization, taking back public ownership and control of water and wastewater services. Learn more about how to bring water and wastewater services back in house and stay alert for signs of privatization in your community.

Learn, act and engage:

  • Watch for the launch of the Water is Life campaign, led by CUPE’s National Indigenous Council. Read this Counterpoint feature article about the urgent need for safe, reliable and well-maintained water and wastewater systems in Indigenous communities, and the call to protect and heal water in Indigenous territories.
  • Be on alert for the Canada Infrastructure Bank in your community. Share CUPE’s list of questions for municipal officials with your local elected representatives and with members of your local, and learn more about how the bank’s first water privatization project failed. Find more CIB resources at
  • Use our checklist to spot the early warning signs of privatization during the pandemic, and share it with members of your local.
  • Order copies of Back in House. This report documents the benefits of contracting in and tells the story of water services coming back in house in several Canadian communities.