October 6, 2021
By Martha Tatarnic
National Indigenous Archbishop Mark MacDonald noted at a recent meeting of Pimatisiwin Nipi (aka Living Waters) that “when we started it was a drop in the bucket, just one small community. Now it is spreading. The support for the gift of water keeps spreading, helping more and more people.”
Actually, when the Pimatisiwin Nipi group started over a decade ago, we didn’t even have a drop in the bucket, we just had a question: “What can we do?” Archbishop Mark heard that question and brought together people from across Canada who were concerned about safe water in Indigenous communities. Archbishop Mark centered our group around four pillars: advocacy, education, partnership and strategic giving.
In 2013, we were able to begin a partnership with the Northern Ontario community of Pikangikum and with PWRDF to install safe drinking water and indoor plumbing in the homes that needed it the most.The generous gifts and training of past years have made it possible in 2021 to bring clean water into more Pikangikum homes.These past fundraising efforts have also provided leverage for Pikangikum to access federal funding for these clean water initiatives.
COVID has posed significant and heartbreaking challenges in Indigenous communities across Canada. More isolation and fewer community resources have been a tragic cost of trying to keep COVID-19 at bay. Now 2021 has seen far too many Indigenous communities bearing the brunt of changing weather patterns – forest fires and flooding – due to climate change. The uncovering of unmarked graves connected to residential schools across this country has also unearthed significant grief. It has made clearer the ongoing multi-generational trauma that exists in Indigenous communities as a result of the forced and systemic removal of Indigenous children from their homes and the horrific indignities to which they were subjected.
The urgency of our work has been renewed, and the question “What Can We Do?” has become “What Is God Calling us to Next?”
In the fall of 2020, we pivoted our fundraising to support a new partnership between PWRDF and Water First, an organization that addresses water challenges in Indigenous communities in Canada. We focused our “Advent Conspiracy” on raising funds forWater First’s IndigenousYouth Internship, a 15-month hands-on water technician training program. By the spring of 2021, Living Waters had raised more than $61,000 toward this important work, and we are so grateful for the generosity across our network.
Going forward, we are keen to work with PWRDF on the kinds of Indigenous- led and high-impact projects that PWRDF has been so intentional about developing. We believe that we can develop further partnerships with Indigenous communities living in the midst of significant crisis, with safe water being our focus, including especially within the Safe Water category of the new Indigenous Development Grant program. We hope that this concrete sign of care and friendship will be a building block on the road to truth and reconciliation, as well as an indication of our commitment to this work when we are seeking to be advocates in how the federal government must honour its mandate to provide clean and safe water for all Canadians.
I think about Archbishop Mark’s words often,particularly when the brokenness of our country, and the urgent need in Indigenous communities, seem too great to even know where to start.We have so much work to do, there is enormous healing that needs to happen. It is unacceptable that in a country as richly resourced as ours, far too many of our Indigenous brothers and sisters are living without access to clean, running water.
But it is okay for us to start with a drop in the bucket. Don’t be afraid to be a drop in the bucket.
Martha Tatarnic is a member of the Living Waters Group and rector of St. George’s Anglican Church, St. Catharines, Ont. She was also recently elected to PWRDF’s Board of Directors. This article was originally published in the September 2021 issue of Under the Sun.