By Kelly Many Guns
The majority of Canadians get up every morning and turn the water tap on to make coffee, jump in the shower, brush their teeth or even to quickly splash their face before starting the day and most don’t give it a second thought. Unfortunately, there are over 140,000 First Nations people in Canada that don’t have the basic luxury most Canadians take for granted, clean drinking water.
The First Nations Drinking Water Settlement was created to compensate First Nations who have been without safe cleaning drinking water for a year or more. Courts have approved the Settlement between Canada and certain First Nations and their members who were subject to a drinking water advisory that lasted one year between November 20, 1995 and June 2021.
Alana Robert, class counsel for the First Nations Drinking Water Settlements says this historic settlement agreement recognizes the First Nation’s right to clean water. It captures over 250 First Nations and over 140,000 members on reserve. The settlement agreement aims to ensure that long-term drinking water advisories on reserve do not become the norm ever again.
“It provides binding legal commitments to bring clean water home to First Nations across the country and keep it there – now, and for future generations,” said Robert. This presents a critical opportunity to transform access to clean water and it signifies a new era – one that many First Nations have long been waiting for.”
Darian Baskatawang, also working as class counsel for the First Nations Drinking Water Settlement says that not having access to clean, safe drinking water for over a year in almost half of the First Nations across Canada is a stain on Canada’s identity.
“We are glad to have come to this agreement and work with Canada to begin to wash away this stain using the clean, safe drinking water this settlement provides.”
Baskatawang shared with First Nations Drum one of the worst drinking water advisories they are aware of in Canada.
“One of the representative plaintiffs, Neskantaga First Nation in what is now (briefly) known as northern Ontario, has had the longest drinking water advisory in Canada, lasting about 27 years and counting. But what makes it the worst is its impact, whether human impact, cultural impact, or otherwise. Neskantaga has been evacuated three times due to its water issues. Children and youth have committed suicide, and long-lasting diseases exacerbated by the simple fact of not having regular access to clean, safe drinking water. This settlement agreement seeks to change that.”
Robert added that Tataskweyak Cree Nation, a representative plaintiff in this case, has been under a long-term drinking water advisory since May 2017. “In Tataskweyak, it is common for children to develop severe full-body rashes from bathing in the treated tap water. This is just one of the consequences of a lack of access to clean water. The horrific realities of long-term drinking water advisories on reserve is a situation that never should have happened in Canada. The settlement agreement aims to eliminate all existing long-term drinking water advisories on reserve, and ensure that this crisis never repeats itself in the future.”
The settlement agreement provides nearly $2 billion in compensation to individuals and First Nations for the harms of having to live under a long-term drinking water advisory. Individuals can receive compensation for every year that they lived on a reserve that was subject to a long-term drinking water advisory. Individuals who experienced certain specified injuries may also be eligible for additional compensation. Any impacted First Nation that accepts the settlement agreement will receive a minimum of $500,000 in compensation, plus an additional 50% of the amount paid to its individual members. But the most transformative aspects of the settlement agreement are the significant forward-looking measures which seek to eliminate long-term drinking water advisories and ensure that access to clean water becomes the new norm on reserve.
This will be made possible by the requirement that Canada spend at least $6 billion by 2030 on water and wastewater infrastructure. The settlement agreement also contains a heightened standard for water on reserve, which requires Canada to take all reasonable efforts to ensure that there is regular access to clean drinking water on reserve. If Canada does not meet the standards set out in the settlement agreement, a new dispute resolution process is available to bring Canada and First Nations together to craft the plan forward. This process includes Indigenous legal traditions and protocols of the impacted First Nation. All of this makes a better future possible, where First Nations can have access to the basic necessity of clean drinking water, like all other Canadians.
Baskatawang says out of the roughly 8 billion dollar settlement, roughly 2 billion is for compensation.
“The other 6 billion is to power the legal commitment to make sure this never happens again. First Nations and Individuals do not have to opt in or worry about not having regular access to clean, safe drinking water again. So while only roughly half of the communities get compensation for living under a drinking water advisory, everyone benefits by the commitment.”
Robert and Baskatawang invite impacted individuals and First Nations to learn more about the settlement agreement by visiting www.FirstNationsDrinkingWater.ca. The claims period is now open. Individuals have until March 7, 2023 to submit their claim forms, and First Nations have until December 22, 2022 to accept the settlement agreement. Our team is here to assist individuals and First Nations every step of the way.