The City of London, The Thames River and Indigenous Water

A (very) brief history of the water management issues that affect the Oneida community.

A prevalent issue within the City of London’s infrastructure is the pollution of the Deshkan Ziibi River (Antler River in Anishinaabemowin). Also known as the Kahwy^hatati (River in ONYOTA:KA), or Thames River, the Deshkan Ziibi River has had prevailing sanitary issues since 1995 for some Indigenous communities (London Environmental Network, 2021). (City of London, 2021). 

Figure 1: Map of the Thames River Watershed

Source: Thames River Revival, online:

Since 2018, the river has been used as a dump for sewage and rainwater that flows downstream. The river flows through many Indigenous communities, including the Oneida First Nations community (Global News, 2019). However, the Oneida community’s water distribution system hasn’t met provincial standards since approximately 2006. 

In 2015, Justin Trudeau promised to remove all long-term water advisories by March 2021, but we still have yet to see that come to reality. Despite this pledge by the Canadian government to commit two billion dollars to support affected communities, many communities are still waiting for a resolution to this critical issue (London Environmental Network, 2021).

Why is this important to the City of London?

The City of London has been certified as a  ‘Blue Community’ as presented by the Blue Community Project (CTV News, 2021). The Blue Communities Project focuses on a framework of three key points:

  1. “Recognizing sanitization and water as human rights.”
  2. “Banning or phasing out the sale of bottled water in municipal facilities and at municipal events.”
  3. “Promoting publicly financed, owned and operated water and waste water services.”

The most concerning issues for London and the Oneida of the Thames communities are primarily the first and third points. With the Deshkan Ziibi River flowing through the City of London and the Oneida Community, the pollution created has and continues to negatively affect the Oneida community because of the terrible water quality.

This issue also has ties to several sustainable development goals (SDGs) sanctioned by the United Nations. The particular SDGs involved are:

  • Goal 6: Clean Water and Sanitation
  • Goal 10: Reduced Inequalities
  • Goal 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities

Figure 2: All 17 Sustainable Development Goals set out by the United Nations

Source: United Nations, online: 

The sustainable development goals set out by the United Nations are a set of 17 universal calls to action that were adopted in 2015 to represent the variety of issues that we face globally. However, these SDGs aren’t the only calls to action that should grab your attention. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada: Calls to Action, which the United Nations have also sanctioned, are an essential resource to pay close attention to make sure that Indigenous communities’ voices aren’t just heard, but that solutions to issues facing Indigenous communities are developed with them (United Nations, 2015).

The water issues for Indigenous communities are not just a matter of risk it is a problem that causes numerous physical, mental, and spiritual consequences to their health and well-being (Global News, 2021).

Specific physical issues that may occur:

  • Skin Conditions
  • Stomach Illnesses
  • Cancer
  • Bacterial Contamination
  • Birth Defects

In Indigenous communities, water is sacred. It is seen as a form of interconnectedness to all life. (Assembly of First Nations, 2022). The long-term consequences of inaction may create intergenerational health issues if they do not already exist in the affected  communities. Unfortunately, there is a distinct lack of research about long-term impacts. But at the very least, the short-term effects already indicate that many communities are at risk and we are nowhere near being on the right track. Not only this, but merely assessing general issues in water quality would lead anyone to assume that the environmental impacts will also extend to beyond the directly impacted communities, creating further problems of sustainable living in biodiversity. 

The current action that the City of London is taking or has taken

In general, the City of London has a framework for ensuring that its water quality is sanitary and suitable for drinking. In regards to its overarching wastewater, stormwater, and sanitation infrastructure concerning the Thames River:

  • They are currently working on adapting old sewer and sanitary infrastructure, as seen throughout the City of London.
  • London and the Thames River Article: March 31, 2021
    • This article from the Geomatics and Environmental & Engineering Services from the City of London provides insight into the relatively current goings-on with an in-depth look into the history, infrastructure, and recent construction of the City of London’s sewers, waterways, stormwater management, and subwatersheds.
    • Though the article recognizes the Indigenous communities in the beginning, it does not express anyways of how it is benefiting the communities it mentions.

Figure 3: A map of the Infrastructures currently ongoing and planned to occur as of 2021

Source: City of London, online: 

  • Monthly testing occurs in 10 different locations in the Thames River as part of a monitoring program with the City of London. 
  • Participation in the Clear Water Revival: 2011 – 2016
    • The Thames Clear Water Revival (TRCWR) was a long-term initiative to revitalize the Thames River by creating and applying a water management plan titled the ‘Shared Waters Approach’.
    • Though this was a relatively consistent project, it ceased most operations following 2016. Since this time, the only tangible result that has come of it was a finalized 249-page report in 2019 regarding the project’s goals that has presented numerous recommendations for solutions. 

What can be done moving forward?

  • Integrating green infrastructure strategies as indicated by London Environment Networks Skylar Franke (London Free Press, 2020).
    • For example, rain gardens retain more water and redirect it quickly onto roads and into storm drains.
  • Continue to connect and cooperate with Indigenous communities and the United Nations by listening to:
    • The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada: Calls to Action
    • Recommendations from Indigenous participants of a study done by Rachel Arsenault of York University indicate that:
  1. “Traditional Knowledge (TK) and Indigenous laws be included in water security initiatives and water governance…” (Arsenault, 2021).
  2. “That provincial and federal governments work with Indigenous communities on their water security challenges and opportunities…” (Arsenault, 2021).
  3. “That First Nation leadership develops and implements community water protection plans…” (Arsenault, 2021).
  4.  “That Indigenous communities establish an oversight committee or body for monitoring tourist ventures and extractive development projects such as mining on their territories.” (Arsenault, 2021)
  • More public recognition and engagement to these issues ensure they are followed through with and effectively supported.

What can YOU do?

This post has only scratched the surface of this issue. Plenty of informative resources and information are provided below, but more specific insight as to how you can help can be found here:

  • Connect with your elected officials.
    • Hold the actions and promises accountable.
    • Use the resources mentioned down below and support potential solutions.
  • Be sure to direct downward spouts toward lawns or gardens or use a rain barrel.
  • Only rain down the drain.
    • Never put oils or chemicals down any storm drains.
  • Don’t flush garbage down your toilet or down your sink.
    • Never flush anything plastic, drugs, floss or anything like that; be sure to dispose of them properly.
  • Restrict your fertilizer usage and clean up after your pets.

And last but not least, do not let the issue become just another ‘dying’ or ‘dead’ trend.

Sources used:

Arsenault, Rachel. 2021. “Water Insecurity in Ontario First Nations: An Exploratory Study on Past Interventions and the Need for Indigenous Water Governance” Water 13, no. 5: 717.

Newcombe, Daryl. 2021. “How London Became A ‘Blue Community'”. London.

Hendrikson, Maddy. 2021. “Environmentalism In Action: Clean Water Rights”. London Environmental Network.

Keogh, Declan, Katie Swyers, Benjamin Hargreaves, Julianna Perkins, and Robert Cribb. 2019. “Oneida Nation Of The Thames Tap Water Different Than Neighbouring Non-Indigenous Communities | Globalnews.Ca”. Global News.

“Committed To A Healthy And Vital Thames River”. 2021. Thamesrevival.Ca.

“Blue Communities”. 2022. The Council Of Canadians.

City of London. 2021. “London And The Thames River ”. Arcgis Storymaps.

“Stormwater | City Of London”. 2020. London.Ca.

“THE 17 GOALS | Sustainable Development”. 2022. Sdgs.Un.Org. Accessed February 9.

Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, United Nations, National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation, and Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. 2015. Truth & reconciliation: calls to action.

Goldfinger, Daina. 2021. “‘An Ongoing Symbol Of Colonization’: How Bad Water Affects First Nations’ Health | Globalnews.Ca”. Global News.,water%20quality%20in%20their%20communities.&text=Cancers%20were%20reported%2C%E2%80%9D%20Bradford%20said.

“Honouring Water | Assembly Of First Nations”. 2022. Assembly Of First Nations. Accessed February 15.,water%20all%20life%20will%20perish.”Home – Water First Education & Training Inc. %”. 2022. Water First Education & Training Inc.. Accessed February 15.

This blog post series is an ongoing partnership between the SDG Cities program at Pillar Nonprofit Network and the Environmental Stewardship course in the Governance, Leadership, and Ethics program at Huron University. As part of their assignments, students are required to write about real-world challenges using the UN Sustainable Developments Goals (SDGs) as a holistic framework to analyse the problem and propose solutions that could lead to systemic change and a better future for all. The series presents an opportunity for students to address practical and meaningful challenges that their communities are facing currently,  and an opportunity for SDG Cities to enrich their program by including youth perspectives.

All opinions expressed by the guest authors do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the SDG Cities program or Pillar Nonprofit Network.