Despite evidence of years of poor water quality, Six Nations is not included a country-wide First Nations class action settlement.
E-coli contamination, undrinkable well water, poorly functioning water treatment plants – none of that was enough for Six Nations to be included in a settlement that aims to compensate First Nations for decades of unsuitable drinking water.
The criteria for eligibility was laid out by Rod Whitlow, part of the Six Nations Environmental Task Force, said one of the criteria is that the First Nation had to have a boil water advisory for one year within the last 25 years.
The deadline for First Nations to opt in for the settlement is in December.
“It’s kind of an aggressive timeline,” Whitlow told Six Nations Elected Council’s Political Liaison meeting on Monday.
Councillors piped up one by one to talk about their personal experiences with poor water quality over the past half century, including the necessity to buy trucked in water and bottled water, costing them a small fortune over the years.
The settlement provides a base amount of $2,000 per year on a boil water advisory.
Whitlow said Six Nations was in a “unique” situation and that it theoretically should meet the criteria to be included in the settlement.
He said because Six Nations has a “state of the art” water treatment plant the assumption is that the community doesn’t have a water quality problem.
But in the early 90s, newspaper articles chronicled Six Nations protesting to get a water treatment plant built to address poor water quality. It was so bad, people were even advised not to bathe in that water.
A new water treatment plant was built in the late 2000s and serves the village of Ohsweken, with the capacity to serve the whole territory if water pipes are extended throughout the reserve.
Whitlow also talked about an older water treatment plant on Fourth Line that treated water from McKenzie Creek.
“It was really rudimentary. People who were hooked up to the distribution system then were told not to drink that water. There was fear from it,” said Whitlow.
There has been a generational fear, whether using water from a well or treatment plant, said Whitlow.
“No one really trusts the water.”
Whitlow said under this settlement, a band council resolution (BCR) must be passed to opt in.
Individuals can also opt in to the lawsuit.
That application deadline has been extended to March 2023.
When applicants go to the website to apply, however, Whitlow said Six Nations is not an option in the drop down menu under “impacted First Nations.”
“It is a labor and time-intensive application process,” he said.
A lot of people will have their own records, such as letters going out saying “do not drink the water.”
In 1996, a Health Canada test showed quite a few wells on the territory were chemically unsafe to drink the water.
“We need the appropriate documentation sent to the administrators,” said Whitlow.
Coun. Hazel Johnson said her area on Third Line has had a drinking water issue for 55 years at least.
“The bills we paid for water were horrendous; two loads of water were $100 each. I think somewhere I have all those bills. What we paid throughout the years is a horrendous amount so if that doesn’t fit the criteria of this first class lawsuit on our water problems here, I don’t know what would. It’s not just us, it’s our whole neighbourhood. We’re all in that locality of the gypsum company (near Hwy. 6). Literally, I’m tired of what’s happened, waiting to have our water (pipes) installed.”
Coun. Melba Thomas, who lives on Cayuga Road near Beaver’s Corner, said she got an advisory about 25 years ago not to drink the water.
“We spent a lot of money on jugs of water as well as bottled water,” said Thomas.
Coun. Helen Miller said she also got letters in the past advising not to drink the water.
“We have so many water studies, we just don’t seem to be doing anything about the water,” said Miller. “If we can get in on the settlement we should be doing that.”
Council is asking its legal team to craft a band council resolution in time for general council on Nov. 22 when it will re-visit the issue further.