Northern Manitoba First Nation hopes billion-dollar settlement will finally end boil-water advisory

By Dave Baxter
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Winnipeg Sun

It’s been years since anyone in the Tataskweyak Cree Nation (TCN) could drink water unless it was either boiled or sent in on a delivery truck. But thanks to a billion-dollar settlement reached with the feds, the far north community is now anticipating a chance to finally put an end to their ongoing boil-water advisory.

Two years ago in December of 2021, it was announced that a court decision would see the federal government mandated to put billions of dollars aside to bring clean drinking water to a number of First Nations communities, and to compensate community members who have lived for years under boil-water advisories, and without access to clean water.

The ruling approved a total settlement of $8 billion for both compensation, and to allow First Nations to build water treatment infrastructure, and came after TCN, along with Ontario communities of Curve Lake First Nation and Neskantaga First Nation filed a class-action lawsuit against the federal government asking that clean drinking water be recognized as a basic human right.

TCN, a remote community north of Thompson, is home to approximately 2,400 on-reserve members and has been under a boil-water advisory since 2017.

According to an affidavit filed as part of the lawsuit, TCN currently gets its potable water from Split Lake, but that water has been contaminated by upstream development and recurring flooding, as well as from sewage that is periodically released into the lake.

That has left the community’s drinking water source contaminated with E.coli and large-scale blue-green algae blooms, which can cause serious illness, according to the affidavit.

But TCN’s years of boil water advisories should soon come to an end, as according to Indigenous Services Canada (ISC) construction is expected to begin sometime this spring on a new water treatment plant and 40 kilometre pipeline that will see the community draw their water from Assean Lake, and give TCN a source of clean and drinkable water for the first time since 2017.

Funding for what is expected to be an approximately $40 million project will come from the $8-billion settlement reached as part of the 2021 court ruling.

TCN Band Councillor Nathan Neckoway says that the years of having no clean drinking water has not only been a burden and a hardship, but has caused some, including youth, to get sick, and deal with different ailments.

“It’s been very, very challenging,” Neckoway said.

Those challenges, according to Neckoway, continue to include having to ship large amounts of bottled water into the community, and then have local firefighters deliver as many as two or three crates of water to each home per week.

But with some homes having 10 or more people living in them according to Neckoway, those deliveries sometimes are used up before the next shipment arrives.

According to Neckoway, the lack of clean tap water also affects residents’ health when they bathe, as he said some, and often children who bathe in the water come down with serious rashes, bumps and other skin issues.

Minister of Indigenous Services Patty Hajdu said the federal government will continue to work to bring drinkable water to communities, and she has also recently proposed new federal legislation that would see “legally enforceable” safe and clean drinking water protocols enforced in all First Nation in Canada.

“Currently, First Nations communities do not have legally enforceable safe drinking water protections similar to what is in place in provinces and territories,” Hajdu said in a Dec. 11 media release announcing the introduction in Parliament of Bill C-61, (First Nations Clean Water Act)

“In First Nations communities, effective legislation and a national regulatory regime are essential.”

According to Government of Canada statistics, there are currently 29 long-term drinking water advisories in 27 First Nations communities in Canada, while 143 long-term drinking water advisories have been lifted since November of 2015.