Residents of some First Nations affected by unsafe drinking water can now file claims under a settlement with the federal government, but the chief of one northwestern Ontario community says they don’t support the arrangement.
“I just want to say that I’m not in agreement with the settlement,” said Roy Moonias, a member of Neskantaga First Nation, which has been under a drinking-water advisory for nearly three decades.
“I heard the community say the same thing. They’re not in agreement.”
The settlement was signed last year, after members of First Nations in communities with a water advisory of at least one year since 1995 launched a legal challenge in 2019.
The settlement provides:
- About $1.5 billion in compensation for individual First Nation residents affected by a lack 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.
- At least $6 billion to improve access to safe drinking water on First Nations.
The government also renewed its pledge to end long-term drinking water advisories in First Nations.
Roy Moonias said the terms of the agreement are too restrictive.
Compensation is open to anyone who lived on a First Nation that had a boil-water advisory for at least a year between Nov. 20, 2013, and June 20, 2021.
However, the age of claimants plays a role in how much compensation they may get. Those born before Nov. 20, 1995, are only eligible for compensation for the period of Nov. 20, 2013 to June 20, 2021.
According to the First Nations Drinking Water Settlement website, “there are certain legislative limitations that apply to the settlement, because of Canadian laws that place limits on how long adults have to bring a lawsuit forward after an event happens.”
At the media conference, Moonias said he didn’t support the settlement because of that.
“I myself don’t support governments format,” he said. “I suffered 27 years. I suffered, my family, and everybody in the community here, 27 years.”
However, under the terms of the settlement, Moonias said he’s only eligible for compensation for six of those years.
“I just want to say that I’m not in agreement with the settlement,” he said. “I heard the community say the same thing. They’re not in agreement.”
Chief Doreen Spence of Tataskweyak Cree Nation invited federal Indigenous Services Minister Patty Hajdu to visit her community, which has been under a water advisory since 2017.
“I know that every First Nation as well has their own unique, different problems in terms of water quality and service,” Spence said. “The settlement agreement … is making a promise to end all boil-water advisories, and we know that this is not going to happen overnight.
“If this continues, for us to argue for what we want, the stumbling block is still there, because we know the federal government usually dictates in terms of, ‘No, this is what you’re going to get, this is how we’re going to get rid of the boil-water advisory.’ But I think that is unacceptable.”
Spence said the government needs to listen to First Nations and their input, into what they need in terms of drinking water.
Chief Wayne Moonias of Neskantaga said the water has led to health issues for residents of the community.
“We visited houses from time to time where we have little kids, toddlers, being bandaged up because of sores and exposure to unsafe drinking water,” he said. “There’s a lot of work that has to be done, and I think this is where the path is in terms of getting some of these things looked into on a more urgent and emergency basis to try to get the supports in place in the communities.”
The lack of clean drinking water for such a long period of time is also taking its toll on the mental health of residents, Wayne Moonias said.
“It’s really disheartening. We’re dealing with multiple of issues when it comes to access to the clean drinking water, as well as providing the quality of life that the community members.”
Hajdu said there are 33 active long-term drinking water advisories in First Nations communities, with up to a dozen expected to be lifted this year.
“We will continue to work with all 33 communities, and I will personally speak to the chiefs on a regular basis so that I understand how best I as the minister, and the department, serve them as we work through getting those water advisories lifted,” Hajdu said.