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ILSA Speaker Series 2024 - Day 4: Darian Baskatawang Discusses Class Action Lawsuits

tansi ninôtemik,

The Indigenous Law Students’ Association’s 2024 Speaker Series continues!

On Thursday March 7th, the Indigenous Law Students’ Association speaker series talk was given by Darian Baskatawang.

Darian is legal counsel at OKT and has been involved in a class action lawsuit that has benefited Indigenous people and communities. Namely, he prosecuted the government of Canada for failing to provide clean drinking water on reserves. At the time, this was the largest class action in Canadian history.

Class action lawsuits are a means of bringing claims together in a streamlined process. This promotes access to justice, judicial economy, and behavior modification.

Before colonization, the Neskantaga First Nation lived off the land, but then their drinking water became dirty. The Hudson's Bay Company set up offices, including new school residences and natural resource offices. These buildings were serviced with clean water, while the community of Neskantaga was not. To add insult to injury, staff who lived in these offices dumped old appliances into the lake the community drank from.

Then, Indian affairs implemented a bidding process to deliver drinking water on reserves. As was often the case in Indian Affairs, the contract was awarded to the lowest bidder. This resulted in high levels of chlorine, disinfectant, and other carcinogens. A boil water advisory was immediately declared.

Neskantaga First Nation, Curve Lake First Nation, and Tataskweyak Cree Nation launched a class action to ensure their communities and other Indigenous communities would have access to clean drinking water. In 2021, a settlement in principle was reached, resulting in an award of $8 billion to meet the communities' water needs.

Compensation to people affected includes the cost of complying with boil water advisories, and for harms as a result of living under drinking water advisories. The settlement provides that Canada is in breach of the agreement if someone cannot access clean drinking water in their homes.

Today, Neskantaga still has a boil water advisory, but because of the settlement Canada has agreed to build a new water treatment plant. This will be built in consultation with the community and will concurrently implement healing initiatives for the community. When the boil water advisory finally ends, the Prime Minister will issue a formal apology to the whole class of claimants.

Darian urges lawyers, future lawyers, and judges to continue to push themselves and others to do better for Indigenous people.

Stay tuned for details the next compelling speaker

Until next time,

The ReconciliACTION YEG team

  1. University of Alberta Faculty of Law, “2024 ILSA Speaker Series” (2024) online: University of Alberta <>

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