Feds agree to drinking-water suit settlement

·3 min read

A class-action suit filed against the federal government on behalf of a number of First Nations communities on the basis of lack of access to clean drinking water has been settled with a historic agreement between the nations and the federal government last week.

The Tataskweyak Cree Nation, Curve Lake First Nation and Neskantaga First Nation lauded the agreement in principle, saying it was about time the federal government assured that everyone who lives within the country’s borders would have access to clean drinking water.

In addition, the Liberals campaigned on the promise of assuring clean drinking water in 2015, promising to eradicate all boil-water advisories in First Nations communities by the end of 2020, a promise that has not yet been met.

“For hundreds of years now, Canada has enjoyed vast wealth while Indigenous people lack access to even the basic necessities of life like drinkable water,” said Tataskweyak Cree Nation Chief Doreen Spence. “Today, we have come one step closer to reconciling this long history. We can celebrate the Agreement in Principle as a step in the right direction and we look forward to seeing how quickly we can achieve the goal of clean water for all,” she said.

The agreement set parameters for the next wave of work on lifting boil-water advisories in First Nations, Inuit and Metis communities with $1.5 billion in compensation for individuals deprived of clean drinking water; the creation of a $400 million First Nation economic and cultural restoration fund; the creation of a First Nations Advisory Committee on Safe Drinking Water; further support for First Nations to develop their own safe drinking water by-laws and initiatives; a commitment of at least $6 billion to support reliable access to safe drinking water on reserve; planned modernization of Canada's First Nations drinking water legislation.

At present, more than 51 long-term drinking-water advisories remain in place in 32 First Nations communities, a fact that boggles many minds in 2021.

"For hundreds of years now, Canada has enjoyed vast wealth while Indigenous people lack access to even the basic necessities of life like drinkable water,” said Curve Lake First Nation Chief Emily Whetung, adding that despite bumps in the road, the government and First Nations communities have a road map to move forward. “Today, we have come one step closer to reconciling this long history. We can celebrate the Agreement in Principle as a step in the right direction and we look forward to seeing how quickly we can achieve the goal of clean water for all," she said.

Federal Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller said helping lift boil-water advisories in those communities remains one of his top priorities.

“I strongly believe in resolving important matters like this through open dialogue grounded in the principles of co-operation, partnership and transparency,” he said. “We are proud to have worked in partnership with Tataskweyak Cree Nation, Curve Lake First Nation and Neskantaga First Nation to establish an Agreement in Principle that lays the groundwork for long-term sustainable solutions to ensure access to clean water on reserves now and in the future. The safety of community members is our top priority and we will continue to work together to ensure that their water is clean and safe to drink.”

The federal government has worked with First Nations communities to resolve more than 108 long-term drinking-water advisories in those communities since 2015.

Marc Lalonde, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Iori:wase

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