Apologies to Conservative MP who claimed First Nations burned water plants

The Piapot First Nation is demanding an apology from a Conservative MP after he said First Nations are burning down water treatment plants because they are frustrated with the Liberals.

Chief Mark Fox and his council say they reject Saskatchewan MP Kevin Waugh’s remarks as “extremely disrespectful” and are calling for a formal apology and retraction of the “baseless claims.”

Waugh made the comments during debate on a First Nations water bill last week, prompting a swift reaction from First Nations and the Minister of Indigenous Services.

“In my home province of Saskatchewan, I’ve seen reserves burn down water treatment plants because the Liberal government has done little or nothing,” Waugh said, directing his comments toward Indigenous Services Minister Patty Hajdu.

He added that it is necessary to “educate people on the reservation to operate these water treatment plants” and blamed the Liberals for not doing more.

A water plant on the Carry the Kettle Nakoda Nation was damaged by fire in 2019, and another on the Piapot First Nation burned in 2018.

Fox said investigations into the fire on the Piapot First Nation identified it was caused by a propane leak.

The cause of the fire at Carry the Kettle Nakoda Nation was not reported.

Waugh retracted his comments a few days later, and his office admitted it is not familiar with any specific circumstances.

“MP Waugh was making the point that after eight years of Justin Trudeau and this Liberal government, what we have is a trail of broken promises and countless Indigenous communities without access to clean water,” his office said.

It wasn’t enough for Fox.

“These statements by the MP are not only without merit, but deeply disrespectful to the people of the Piapot First Nation and to all First Nations committed to the stewardship of our lands and resources,” the chief said in a statement.

“They divert attention from the real problems we face regarding infrastructure and resource management, and should not be overshadowed by such reckless and ill-informed political rhetoric.”

Waugh’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Last week, Hajdu said there is no place in the House of Commons for the kind of rhetoric he heard from Waugh, especially during debate on a bill that seeks to restore the inherent rights of First Nations.

“The first question coming from the Conservative side of the bench really illustrated the kinds of harmful stereotypes that First Nations have been living with for a long time,” Hajdu told reporters outside the House of Commons.

Hajdu said he would consult with acting House Leader Steven MacKinnon about whether they would ask Waugh to withdraw his comments.

The Southern Chiefs Organization, which represents 34 First Nations in southern Manitoba, said last week that Waugh’s comments reinforced harmful stereotypes about First Nations in an era of reconciliation.

Grand Chief Jerry Daniels urged all MPs to remember the legacy of colonialism in Canada and to “remember the importance of building relationships with First Nations based on kindness and mutual respect to benefit everyone.”

Legislation being debated at the time of Waugh’s initial comments seeks to improve water quality in First Nations communities, improve collaboration on water protection and codify a new First Nations-led water commission.

It was introduced in December, more than a year after the federal government repealed First Nations drinking water legislation dating back to Stephen Harper’s Conservative government.

Hajdu touted the new bill as the result of immense collaboration and knowledge sharing, although some First Nations rejected that claim when the legislation was introduced.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 12, 2024.

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