Hilary Beaumont, Martha Troian | Hillman Foundation

2018 Honourable Mention

Hilary Beaumont, Martha Troian
Hilary Beaumont, Martha Troian, features editor Justin Ling; video producer Victoria Ptashnick; digital producer Mallika Viegas; managing editor Natalie Alcoba

Hilary Beaumont, Martha Troian, features editor Justin Ling; video producer Victoria Ptashnick; digital producer Mallika Viegas; managing editor Natalie Alcoba

‘Canada’s Indigenous water crisis’ is an investigative effort between Indigenous and non-Indigenous journalists to hold the Liberal government accountable to its commitment to bring clean tap water to all First Nations across Canada within five years.

The right to clean water is taken for granted by many Canadians living off-reserve, but the lack of clean water in more than 100 First Nations communities has been a problem for decades.

Justin Trudeau committed for the first time at a VICE-hosted town hall in 2015 that if he were elected Prime Minister, he would solve the crisis within five years. Since his election, VICE News has been putting that promise to the test and exposing the broken system the government is relying on to bring clean tap water to First Nations communities.

The week-long series opened under a banner illustration by Anishnaabe artist Chief Lady Bird, with an overview of the crisis, alongside a fact-check on the government’s list of boil water advisories it claimed to have solved. Some of the communities contacted said they still faced major issues — including lack of government funding and leaky, poorly-designed systems — that made their clean water vulnerable.

VICE published additional investigations, including a data-driven story that revealed more than 1,000 cases of industrial pollution that have contaminated the land and water of 335 First Nations in Canada; and a video with interviews with young First Nations people on remote reserves across the country who have never had clean tap water to drink. This, accompanied by “Powerless,” another article in the series, wove together accounts from First Nations people directly affected by the crisis.

D.I.Y.’ revealed that while Canadians off-reserve enjoy stringent water protections, there are no legally-binding water regulations on reserve. A photo essay documented the ‘forgotten’ people of Lake St. Martin First Nation, who, in 2011, had their land flooded by the provincial government in order to save the city of Winnipeg. The flood waters displaced 1,400 people, who are still in limbo years later. ‘Total disaster’ revealed that staff inside Indigenous Affairs have little faith in the system the government is using to solve the water crisis. Leaked briefing notes and well-placed sources exposed the government’s “poorly run” process of funding water systems on reserve.

Finally, at the end of the week, VICE published a solutions-oriented story that explained exactly how the government can fix the water crisis.

While the federal government initially claimed to VICE News that it had made progress on solving the crisis, as its series unfolded, the Indigenous services minister admitted to a lack of progress and eventually renewed the government’s commitment to solving the issue. In the February 2018 federal government budget, $172.6 million in new funding was allocated for clean drinking water on reserves.

Hilary Beaumont is a staff reporter with VICE News. She has covered the First Nations water crisis for the last three years, including hosting two documentaries, and producing written investigations on the topic. She has a journalism degree from the University of King’s College, completed the Banff Centre’s first Investigative Journalism Workshop in fall 2017, and has won four national awards for her work.

Martha Troian is Anishinaabe originally from Obishikokanng (Lac Seul First Nation) in northern Ontario. She is an investigative journalist and writer who contributes to media outlets across the country. 

Justin Ling is a freelance journalist and former features editor at VICE News Canada. He has worked on everything from Canada’s milk-management system to the fight against the Islamic State. But, generally, he covers governments screwing up.

Victoria Ptashnik is an award-winning producer who has produced video in the country’s biggest newsrooms. She graduated from Carleton University with a journalism degree. After finishing a master’s degree in Documentary Media from Ryerson University, she worked as a producer at the Toronto Star, the Globe and Mail, Huffington Post and Vice Canada. 

Mallika Viegas is a video producer at the CBC, specializing in short form docs and social videos. Before joining CBC, Mallika worked for VICE, Toronto Star, CTV, Roger’s Television and Northern Life in Sudbury.

Natalie Alcoba has been Managing Editor of VICE News in Canada since its launch, in 2015, shepherding coverage on national issues such as the crisis of unsafe drinking water in Indigenous communities, the opioid epidemic and the legalization of weed. Prior to that, she held a number of positions at the National Post, reporting on crime, education, courts and Toronto City Hall during the Rob Ford mayoralty. She has also worked at the Toronto Star, the Montreal Gazette and the Hamilton Spectator, and has had stories published from Argentina, Sierra Leone, and India. Currently, she is a Southam Journalism Fellow at Massey College, based at the University of Toronto.