OTTAWA – POLITICS – There could be an end to the longest boil water advisory in Canada. In Neskantaga it has been over a quarter of a century since people have been able to do what most of us take for granted, drink from the tap or bath in water that won’t make us sick.
On Friday in Ottawa in a virtual announcement, Tataskweyak Cree Nation, Curve Lake First Nation and Neskantaga First Nation, together with the Marc Miller, Minister of Indigenous Services announced that an Agreement in Principle has been reached through a successful negotiation process to resolve national class action litigation related to safe drinking water in First Nations communities.
This Agreement in Principle addresses important concerns identified by First Nations represented in the class action lawsuits. The agreement includes the following:
- $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;
- a renewed commitment to Canada’s Action Plan for the lifting of all long-term drinking water advisories;
- the creation of a First Nations Advisory Committee on Safe Drinking Water;
- 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.
Minister Miller said that “Canada will continue to work with all First Nations, including Tataskweyak Cree Nation, Curve Lake First Nation and Neskantaga First Nation, to address water concerns. Together, we will develop sustainable, long-term solutions so that future generations do not worry about whether their water is safe to drink.”
“When I left the Ontario Court of Appeal in 2018, I left knowing that I remained committed to improving the lives of my people, something that has driven me since before I became a lawyer. There is hardly any file more meaningful to me in Canada than these national class actions. I grew up on the Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation, where in my youth, we could not drink from our tap. I know most Canadians agree that it is intolerable to see so many First Nations still living with this reality. Today’s announcement may not be the beginning of the process of reconciliation, but it is certainly a major step along this journey that we pursue together. I am honoured and humbled to have a say in this critical issue as we work with our negotiation partners, the Government of Canada, to ensure First Nations are finally able to have the same right to clean water in their homes as any Canadian,” said Harry LaForme, the Senior Counsel, Olthuis Kleer Townshend LLP, counsel to Tataskweyak Cree Nation, Curve Lake First Nation and Neskantaga First Nation.
Statement from Neskantaga
“For 27 years Neskantaga has been plagued by not having access to clean safe drinking water. That’s harmed us. It has harmed all aspects of our community. It continues to tear at who we are as people, as human beings. People have to live every day with the consequences of past policies. The water in Neskantaga has been so bad that we have been forced to evacuate our entire community twice within the span of twelve months. These were not our mistakes; these were not our policies. People from Neskantaga woke up today, yesterday, and every day for the past 27 years wondering how they will treat the symptoms of this water disaster. Our symptoms are real, and result in kids committing suicide, getting rashes, and suffering severe eczema. The skin conditions are particularly awful. They make our people feel like they have to hide themselves, and furthers their loss of dignity, on top of already feeling like maybe they don’t deserve clean water. It took 27 years to get this far, and we are here and determined to move forward. We view the Agreement In Principle as hope that our water issues will be in the past and that we can move forward with a new beginning. But make no mistake: even when they provide hope, moments like these are very hard for us. Our suffering is still going on. We are cautious about promises, we’re ready to work on legally binding commitments. It is time Neskantaga got clean drinking water. It is time Neskantaga and all other affected nations can focus on healing. Miigwetch”