This month, I want to dedicate some time to share an update on our water claim.
For far too long our community has gone without access to clean drinking water. Not having access to clean water has impacted our community in so many ways. Without easy access to clean water, our ceremonies are more difficult to plan or cannot proceed at all, our events cost more because we have to truck water in, our community get-togethers are more difficult because we can’t use the water out of the tap. Moreover, many of our families suffer serious health consequences, whether it is rashes, stomach illness or concerns for little ones and elderly resulting from lack of water, lack of clean water, high sodium or magnesium levels or other related causes. Our people face the financial consequences of having to constantly buy bottled water, or having filtration systems and UV lights installed – systems that don’t always fix the problem, but at least sometimes make the water safe to bathe in. Some of the point-of-use systems don’t make the water useable. They just make sure that you won’t get E. Coli, but you still can’t bathe because the water can cause rashes and skin conditions.
We are writing today to let you know that getting clean water for our community is our top priority. You may remember that we wrote a letter in November 2019 letting you know that we had brought a lawsuit against the Federal Government claiming they have an obligation to provide clean water to our communities. All of the conversations we had with members about this lawsuit were very positive – it is time we did this! We have seen other individual First Nations bring lawsuits against Canada for similar issues in the past. However, these lawsuits do not seem to be advancing very quickly because they are just one voice and Canada hasn’t appeared to deal with them. We have seen time and time again with lawsuits, like the Indian Day School and the Residential School Class Actions that when we stand together, our voices are heard!
We have continued to pursue this litigation and have amended our claim to say that Canada has an obligation to provide clean water to ALL First Nations. Our claim was amended in March 2020 to make this happen. Our claim has the support of all of the Chiefs Of Ontario and the Assembly of First Nations behind it – the claim for damages is $2.1 Billion and it has gotten Canada’s attention. The lawsuit is moving forward quickly.
Our lawsuit is asking the Courts to find that Canada has a duty to provide clean water to First Nations. We hope to establish this duty in the near future, and are filing additional documents with the Court shortly. Many of our community members have participated in helping us with the court documents and statements necessary to advance our claim. If you are interested in participating, please let us know by contacting Chief Emily Whetung at EmilyW@curvelake.ca.
Secondly, we are claiming that Canada must pay the cost to install proper water treatment plants in all First Nations that have had a Drinking Water Advisory (“DWA”) that lasted more than a year since 1995. We are seeking to have Canada cover the operations and maintenance costs of these water treatment plants. We are working with many other First Nations to advance this claim, and Neskantaga First Nation is one of the named plaintiffs in our case. The reason Neskantaga is working so closely with us is so that we can provide a wide range of facts to the courts. Curve Lake has a serious need for a water treatment plant; Neskantaga has a water treatment plant that has been non-functioning for 25 years. Curve Lake needs the money to build one; Neskantaga needs the money to make theirs work. By working together, we are able to claim both the costs to build water plants and the costs of keeping them operating the way they are supposed to operate.
We are also working with Tataskweyak First Nation who has brought a similar lawsuit in Manitoba. By working together and bringing the claims in two different Courts (the Federal Court for Curve Lake First Nation’s action and the Manitoba Court of Queen’s Bench for Tataskweyak First Nation) we have been able to demonstrate a broad scope of support nationally.
IMPORTANT NOTE FOR INDIVIDUALS
It is important to note that our lawsuit also includes a claim for personal damages suffered by any individual who resided on a First Nation reserve during a DWA that lasted more than one year since 1995. For example, in Curve Lake, we had a DWA from August 14, 2015 to June 6, 2018. If you lived in our community during this time, you are automatically part of the class action.
We want to be clear – there is no guarantee that we will get the necessary water treatment plants or any personal compensation, but we have been stuck in a cycle of feasibility study after feasibility study with no movement for almost four decades. We will only receive compensation if we ‘win’ the lawsuit or can negotiate a settlement with Canada.
If you do not want to be a part of the lawsuit, you can choose to opt out by filling out the forms on the class action websites. Or, if you would like to know more about the lawsuit, you can find that information on the class action websites also. The websites are:
OUR CURRENT RELATIONSHIP WITH THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT
Finally, we would like to acknowledge that we continue to work cooperatively with Canada wherever possible to move our water treatment needs forward. Recently, in August 2020, Indigenous Services
Canada gave us a commitment to fund the $2.6 million needed to design a water treatment plant. This involves working with an engineer to determine EXACTLY what our water treatment plant would look like – from the exact location of the treatment building, to the wires on the electrical panel, to where each pipe will need to go, and every aspect in between. This is the biggest step we have been able to take since 1983 when the subdivision got the small water treatment system for those 56 homes. After a month-long bid process, Council agreed on Monday January 25th, 2021 to award this contract to First Nations Engineering Services Limited. They will begin work on designing the system in the coming weeks.
While we are thrilled with the progress made late this summer, there is still work to be done. Once the system has been designed, we still need to secure almost $50 million to build it. We continue to work with Indigenous Services Canada to try to find ways to fund the build project. We anticipate that the system design will be completed by the end of 2021 and we will continue to use that time to advocate for the money needed to bring clean water home!
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
Q: Why don’t you just save some money and build your own water treatment plant?
A: Nearly all of Curve Lake’s funding comes through government agencies – both from Canada and the Province of Ontario. When these government agencies give money to us, it is only for specific things and anything ‘leftover’ must be returned to the government agency we received it from. We cannot ‘save money’ to build a treatment plant and we cannot use money from a program to put towards a treatment plant.
Q: How are we paying for the lawsuit?
A: We only have to pay the lawyers if we ‘win’ or settle the lawsuit. When you ‘win’ a lawsuit the Court determines what amount in legal fees and costs will be paid to the winner. If we settle the lawsuit, the legal fees and costs of our lawyers will likely be negotiated with Canada.
Q: Who are the lawyers?
A: McCarthy Tétrault LLP and Olthuis Kleer Townshend LLP are acting as our lawyers. Each law firm has a dedicated website to the class action. The website at McCarthy Tétrault LLP is https://www.mccarthy. ca/en/class-action-litigation-drinking-water-advisories-first-nations-0 and the website at Olthuis Kleer Towshend LLP is https://www.oktlaw.com/services/cases/class-action-litigation-on-drinking-water-advisories-on-first-nations-reserves/ . You can reach them by contacting Stephanie Willsey of McCarthy’s at 416-601-8962, Toll-Free 1-877-244-7711, Email: email@example.com or OKT’s office at 416-981-9330, or by email Bryce Edwards: firstname.lastname@example.org or Kevin Hille: email@example.com.
Q: Why are we working with other First Nations?
A: We have seen that when First Nations put their voices together, Canada is more likely to listen to our concerns. This was true in the Residential School Class Action and the Indian Day School Class Action. We also want to be able to show all the reasons why Canada has an obligation to provide clean water and by working with other First Nations we are able to put more and different facts in front of the Court.