Eska bottled water campaign

Canada’s water is a precious resource. One that we, as Canadians, need to think and use responsibly. Bottled water companies like to take our water and sell it back to us, sometimes from our own tap at up to 10,000 times the price.

Aboriginal Canadians living on native reserves rely mostly on bottled water for daily consumption because most don’t have access to clean drinking water.

According to Project Blue, Canada’s national water campaign, 90 reserves are still under boil-water advisories while 2,145 homes have no water service at all. This in a country where water is abundant.

A recent advertising campaign by Quebec bottled water company Eska, depicts three men as aboriginals, using stereotypical native imagery. As these ads rolled out across Montreal’s transit system, instantly there were calls for a boycott.

An aboriginal, Mohawk friend of mine, Clifton Nicholas, alerted me to the ads, so we decided to do something about it. In Canada, natives don’t have access to mainstream news outlets, so we did a YouTube video where he explained why he thought the ads were culturally insensitive.

Nicholas mentions how it’s okay to depict natives as savages, and asks if the company would use imagery such as someone in blackface, or dressed up as an Hasidic Jew.

Most certainly not, because there would be a huge outcry, so Nicholas started a boycott of the company on July 1, Canada Day, to draw attention to this fact. The first person he had to convince to stop buying Eska water was his own mother, who lives in Kanehsatake, a Mohawk community in Quebec known for the 1990 Oka Crisis, where a stand-off took place between Mohawks and Canada’s armed forces.

It wasn’t just the Mohawks who were raising awareness about the problems with this advertising campaign, the Algonquin Anishinabeg tribe (Eska water is sourced in the Algonquin) called the ads “racist” and “degrading.”

To Nicholas, the fact that Eska water is coming from aboriginal, native land in Canada makes it that much more of a pressing issue. On July 7, Eaux Vives, the company which owns Eska water decided to pull the advertising campaign. Eaux Vives President Jim Delsnyder writes, “All television, print and collateral representations of the campaign will be removed from market as quickly as possible.”  

As for Nicholas, he’s elated that seven days after calling for a boycott on Facebook, national media picked up the story with The Globe and Mail and Le Devoir newspapers writing about the YouTube video and boycott. “I’m feeling great about this, but oversight is needed when it comes to this sort of advertising. More importantly, access to clean, safe drinking water is still needed in aboriginal communities all over Canada.”  

 —-published on M&M magazine‘s blog, London, UK. 

Adam Bemma is a journalist, humanitarian, and media consultant based in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

Posted in Uncategorized

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