Canada Reaches $ 8 Billion Settlement Agreement with First nations
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In May, Chief Whetung and other Indigenous leaders sued the Canadian government out of pent-up frustrations for failing to provide clean drinking water. They sued the government for $2.1 billion regarding the bottled water and water treatment needed for the entire Indigenous communities as a result of the government’s negligence. In July, a settlement of $8 billion was agreed upon between the Canadian federal government and First Nations after years of neglecting to lift water advisories.

Indigenous communities have endured the realities of unclean drinking water for decades as a consequence of colonial laws that restricted funding and the ability of Indigenous communities to manage their own water treatment systems. Curve Lake First Nation, a community surrounded by freshwater lakes has for years been unable to use the freshwater lakes as a consequence of evident contaminants arising from crumbling infrastructure and waterborne diseases forcing the community to turn to shipments of bottled water.

First Nations like Shoal Lake 40 and Nazko have lived in either boil water advisories or ‘do not consume’ advisories for 15+ years. Even after implementing water systems in communities like the Six Nations of the Grand Reserve, only 9% of these homes had a piped system hooked up and actually could access this water. The federal government is now responsible for fixing these inequities and human rights issues; however, it has done a poor job in propelling the process forward.

From November 2015 to May 17th, 2021 a total of 106 long-term water advisories have been lifted, leaving 53 remaining to be lifted in 34 First Nations. The federal government has partnered with First Nations to address clean water systems and maintenance with health and cultural implications. To ensure safe and sustainable usage of water systems, the process can take up to 3-4 years of back-and-forth discussions. The progress remains slow as we reach the end of 2021, with communities still experiencing a lack of basic human necessities in a developed country like Canada.

In a way to address the issues and avoid progressing to court, the federal government offered $8 billion including $1.5 billion to compensate those affected by the water advisories, along with $400 million to aid in reparations and restoration funds, and a total of $6 billion going towards creating relatable access to clean drinking water.

Canada has also renewed its commitment to lifting water advisories throughout the country and to do better moving forward. Marc Miller, the Director of Indigenous Services, had this to say at a news conference, “I could sit here and try and give you all the excuses in the world but there is no credible excuse for countries such as Canada to take this long.” A deadline has not been set as a way to respect First Nations and their self-determination along with their role in the process of implementing safe drinking water guidelines.

The response from First Nations has been emotional as the settlement has been long in coming, and many are still living with the consequences of this neglect. Others are fighting to remove the restrictions of limiting funding to certain groups and rather expanding it to all Indigenous people. Clayton Leonard, a lawyer working on these kinds of cases for years, went further to explain that the $6 billion being put into this initiative is inadequate in actually fixing the issue at hand, stating the report administered by the Harper government indicated the cost would be $10 billion dollars.

Much more is to come as discussion continues between the federal government and First Nations, hoping to resolve not only this issue directly but also the issues of cultural concern and the way these strategies are implemented in communities.


The settlement is a good step towards restoration. Chief Whetung told Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, “I think the total agreement really satisfies the need of First Nations across Canada… It was designed to do that, and specifically, ensure that every community gets access to clean water. There’s a recognition that individuals have suffered harms from not having access to clean water.”

However, the trauma presented to these communities as a result of unclean water goes farther than monetary exchange including health and cultural implications as water holds many important meanings in Indigenous teachings describing water as “ life; …sacred; …power; … our first medicine; and, water connects all things… Water cannot be separated into one realm. In the same way, water is important to life, health, education, the laws that govern our lives, and the environment.” Water essentially governs the longevity of its people physically and culturally, and with the way, it’s been going many communities face a harsh reality physically, mentally, and spiritually.

Although many communities have hailed this agreement, it does not erase the scar and decades of trauma and mistreatment that confront indigenous communities, in particular the unfolding stories of unmarked gravesites.

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