Deadline looms for compensation for safe drinking water in $8 billion class action settlement

TYENDINAGA MOHAWK TERRITORY – The Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte are on standby to help community members with processing claims as the deadline looms to receive compensation as part of an $8 billion class action settlement related to safe drinking water in First Nations communities.

“We have a staff person we’ve hired to help community members with processing those claims,” Chief R. Donald Maracle said in an interview, adding that Grant Barberstock can be reached at the band office by calling 613-396-3424 or on his cell at 613-438-6177.

The compensation comes on the heels of a national class action lawsuit brought against the Attorney General of Canada by lawyers acting on behalf of Tataskweyak Cree Nation, Curve Lake First Nation and Neskantaga First Nation for Canada’s failure to address prolonged drinking water advisories on First Nations reserves across the country.

“In order to be eligible, you have be a status Indian residing on Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory between the periods 2003 to 2021,” Chief Maracle said, adding that to date some 672 applicants have filed in Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory.

Chief Maracle noted that the MBQ had been working with Indigenous Services Canada to address the drinking water issues prior to the court settlement, which was announced on July 30.

“We’ve been working with the department for a number of years,” Maracle said, rhyming off some of the work done to address the drinking water crisis. “We've had actually several water projects, the first one being the Bayshore Road construction in 1986-87. Then there was the Huron Brant South. Then we had the water looping project in 1998, which brought water down the Church lane along part of Old Highway 2 on the east end and then down to the Huron Brant North subdivision. Then, in 2014-15, we built the water treatment plant, and it was designed to be able to service the entire Reserve.”

Work continues on the projects as phases 3 and 4 are expected to be completed in 2023, but there is much work remaining to be done, Maracle noted.

“Approximately 30 km of road remains unserviced,” he said. “Approximately 400 homes remain without access to piped water supply.”

The Covid-19 pandemic impacted progress, Maracle said.

“Our staff has been working very diligently with the contractors and engineers to oversee that, to get things moving,” he said. “Phase 3 of the project was severely impacted with the pandemic and supply line issues that were occurring at the time. (Federal Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations) Marc Miller was able to provide an extra $10 million to make that project move ahead. It just demonstrates the commitment that the government has to ending boiled water advisories on First Nations.”

Chief Maracle acknowledged the positive working relationship the BMQ currently have with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s governing Liberals.

“Currently, we have a government that's committed to resolving this. I'm very happy about that,” Maracle said, adding that the court action ensures the work will continue.

“There is an ongoing obligation from the court action for the government to work with us to achieve safe drinking water in our communities.”

Along with the compensation as a result of the lawsuit, Canada has committed to creating a First Nations economic and cultural restoration fund, a renewed commitment to lifting all long-term drinking water advisories, the modernization of Canada’s First Nations drinking water legislation and the creation of federal drinking water legislation.

“Everything has to be worked at to achieve success,” Chief Maracle said when asked about the juggling of many ongoing projects on the Reserve. “It’s not going to fall out the sky on its own. There's a lot of leg work, a lot of lobby work that has to be done … and our staff also have to do a lot of the technical work with our engineers to get the projects up and ready.”

Chief Maracle praised his staff for its commitment to the many projects being undertaken.

“There can be very busy times that we’ll work the day and into the night. There's a heavy workload here, but we couldn’t achieve this without a dedicated staff,” he said. “It takes a dedicated team to make these things happen. You need a good working relationship with your funding partner and we have that.”

That said, safe drinking water remains a top priority, Maracle noted.

“We want to get these projects completed as quickly as possible because the need for safe drinking water is urgent.”

Complete claims for compensation under the class action lawsuit can be emailed to; faxed to 647-738-5206 or mailed Drinking Water Class Action, Claims Administrator, C/O Deloitte, P.O. Box 160, Station Adelaide, Toronto, ON, M5C 2J2.

Jan Murphy is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the Belleville Intelligencer. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.

Jan Murphy, Local Journalism Initiative, Belleville Intelligencer