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Politics ᐊ ᓃᑳᓂᔅᑭᑭᓂᐧᐃᒡ ᐊᐱᑎᓰᐧᐃᓐ

First Nations, individuals now have until March 7 to claim compensation for water advisories

BY Ben Powless Mar 2, 2023

In 2021, Federal Court approved a class-action settlement between Canada and several First Nations that were subject to long-term drinking water advisories from 1995 to 2021. Now, settlement negotiators have extended the deadline for First Nations to submit a claim until March 7. 

If the Band Council Acceptance Resolution that a First Nation files with the settlement administrator is accepted, it will receive a $500,000 base payment and be eligible for additional payments of up to 50% of the amounts paid to eligible individuals in the community. 

The overall settlement was for $8 billion, which included $1.5 billion in compensation for individuals; $400 million in compensation for First Nations communities; $50 million for individuals who experienced injuries due to drinking water advisories; $6 billion for construction and maintenance of water infrastructure in First Nations communities; and the federal government’s commitment to end drinking water advisories across Canada.

Canada agreed to spend at least $6 billion and “make all reasonable efforts” to end drinking water advisories by March 31, 2030, including funding the construction and maintenance of water treatment facilities. 

Individuals also have until March 7 to submit their claims for “significant and long-term health problems that have harmed your quality of life and disrupted your wellbeing and/or daily activities,” according to the settlement. The settlement outlines nine types of harm that are included, which are: digestive, respiratory, dermatological, liver, neurological, bloodstream infections, kidney, tumors or cancer, and mental health. 

Individuals are also eligible for payments for the period they lived in a First Nation community that experienced a drinking water advisory between November 20, 1995, and June 20, 2021. For those in remote First Nations, that could average about $2,000 per year. For non-remote First Nations, that could amount to $2,000 for do-not-use advisories, $1,650 for do-not-consume advisories, and $1,300 for boil-water advisories, per year.

The class action lawsuit started in 2019 with Neskantaga First Nation, Curve Lake First Nation and Tataskweyak Cree Nation contracting Olthuis Kleer Townshend LLP and McCarthy Tétrault LLP, suing the federal government for failing to ensure safe drinking water was available in First Nations communities. 

No Cree communities in Eeyou Istchee are listed as impacted First Nations. Only communities that had drinking water advisories lasting more than a year are eligible. In total, 321 First Nations are listed. Five are excluded from participating in the settlement since they are part of other claims. 

“Why does this have to happen? Why did we have to sue the government in order to get this thing to where it is today?” Neskantaga Chief Wayne Moonias said during a press conference announcing the original settlement. “We have suffered so much, we have lost so much, we have endured so much. But our community continues to be resilient. We know how hard it is if you don’t have the basic necessities of life.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau originally pledged to provide clean drinking water for all First Nations by March 2021. Currently, there are 32 drinking water advisories in 28 communities across the country, most of which are in Ontario. 

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Ben Powless is a Kanien'kehá:ka and Anishnabek writer and photographer, currently living in Ottawa. He has a degree in Human Rights, Indigenous and Environmental Studies from Carleton University.