After 5 years, Oneida still has no clean water. Why a class action settlement could be a ‘relief’ | CBC News


A First Nation south of London, Ont., says compensation from the federal government in a class action settlement will be a relief for members who haven’t had clean drinking water in years. 

After a years-long court battle, Ottawa opened the First Nations drinking water settlement process in 2022, offering compensation up to $8 billion to First Nations that have suffered for long periods under drinking water advisories. 

It compensates those affected by a lack of clean drinking water in First Nation communities across the country for at least a year, between Nov. 20,1995, and June 20, 2021. The settlement deal covers 142,000 individuals from 258 First Nations who could be compensated, along with 120 First Nations communities.

The deadline to apply was Thursday. 

It made for a busy week at Oneida Nation of the Thames, which has been under a boil water advisory since 2019.

“It was a quite a hectic day in our political office,” said Sherry Monastyrski, CEO of Oneida Nation of the Thames, describing Thursday’s deadline as people gathered to fill out forms. 

The settlement acknowledges the experiences of those who faced boil water advisories, said Monastyrski, and shows the federal government finally heard Oneida. 

“Being able to have a recognized compensation allows for some sort of relief in a sense that our voices were heard —that we’re being taken seriously — and that there is going to be a solution at the end of the day to fix this boil water advisory.”

She estimates it will be approximately $3,000 of compensation for claimants, based on the length of the water boil advisory. 

Bad water leads to real health problems

“It’s going to mean a lot to individuals that they get a little bit of compensation,” said Joel Abram, Grand Chief of the at the Association of Iroquois and Allied Indians, who lives in Oneida Nation of the Thames. 

“We’ve had bad water for a long time and it’s also resulted in real health effects for people too, like causing lesions and other types of skin conditions,” said Abram.

The First Nation secured $43 million in federal funding last March to bring treated drinking water to the community by September 2025.

Abram said the community has positive outlook after receiving a firm commitment from Ottawa to extend the Lake Huron water line to Oneida. He believes a fresh water supply will also bring opportunities for economic development to the First Nation, he said. 

New water infrastructure leaves hole for fire safety

The water lines coming to Oneida however, are not going to be as life-changing to the community as they had initially thought, Monastyrski said. 

“We originally had put forward a proposal that we would be able to have water fire flow throughout our community. Right now, we do not have fire flow that services all of our community,” she said. “We have had devastating fires in our community in the past where families have actually perished because we do not have that fire flow.”

There is not enough piping, water mains or fire hydrants, she said, and that causes a lot of delays for fire trucks. 

“Although it looked like a really great announcement for our water infrastructure project, it’s meeting the minimum standard that will allow in order for the boil water advisory to be lifted.”

LISTEN: Oneida’s fight for potable water not over yet

Afternoon Drive8:22Oneida’s fight for potable water not over yet

Oneida Nation of the Thames has been under a boil water advisory since 2019. It’s been a busy week for the community as an $8-billion class action settlement came to a close and last minute claimants have been lining up to get their paperwork in. CEO Sherry Monastyrski joins host Colin Butler to share why she believes the fight over water safety isn’t over yet. 

Through the class action settlement, Oneida will have another opportunity to secure the funding for fire flow funding in their community, she said. 

“We’re always looking to ensure that we’re going to be doing the best for our community. We continue to strive for that.”

Failure to solve issue 

The settlement deal is an important acknowledgement that the federal government is going work harder and compensate people for their failure to solve this issue, said Christopher Alcantara, a political science professor at Western University.  

“A number of First Nations communities have been struggling with lacking clean drinking water for many decades and clean water is such an important aspect of being able to live a healthy and fruitful life,” he said. 

“Communities have been asking for this issue to be addressed, and the federal government has been trying to address it but hasn’t been able to do it.”


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