Action for Attawapiskat is Long Overdue

The Attawapiskat First Nation has been fighting for years for the most basic services other Canadians take for granted. 

The community has had no grade school for the past 12 years.  Frustrated children in the community launched their own national fight to shame the government into building them a school. I have spoken many times about Shannen’s Dream, the foundation that that continues to fight for quality education for First Nations children. London students at Clarke Rd. Secondary joined the effort in 2009 and after meeting with me they visited the elementary schools in the area and together more than 4000 letters were sent to the Minister of Indian and Northern Affairs from London area youth, calling on the government to honour its pledge to build a new school in Attawapiskat. More recently, students at John Paul II Secondary invited me to come and talk to them about this situation.

Sadly the situation has only become worse. As a result of chronic underfunding the community declared, on October 18th, 2011 a state of emergency because of the immediate health threat faced by families living in tents and makeshift sheds in the isolated, far north community.  There are major concerns about the adequacy of the water, sewage systems and the housing backlog has reached crisis proportions.

This shack is home to this Attawapiskat elder

An Attawapiskat elder calls this shack home.

Due to recent attention, the Federal government promised to allocate $500,000 to remediate some abandoned houses in the community.  However, this is little more than a band-aid solution because the abandoned houses have been condemned because they are in serious state of advanced decay. What is needed is a long-term commitment to ensuring adequate housing and infrastructure for this community.

Attawapiskat families are facing an urgent crisis; the Conservatives have known about it for months and have done nothing. The community has been warning about such a crisis for years with no government response. That is wrong and Canadians want their government to act.

While it is true that money has been spent on the people of Attawapiskat, and the Conservative government would have you believe they have spent more than enough, the facts tell the story.  The government invests $17,331 a year in health, education, infrastructure and services for every Canadian, but only $9432 for every person in Attawapiskat. 

The Conservatives have also tried to blame the band for mismanagement; but the facts are clear - there has been a government co-manager in Attawapiskat for years.  Officials have been visiting since April.  The government has repeatedly audited Attawapiskat’s finances.  Attawapiskat alerted the Conservatives to a state of emergency more than a month ago and over the last five years, two out of three infrastructure applications from First Nations communities have been turned down.

The community has specifically requested appropriate support from the military to resolve this crisis.  The military has played an important role in past Canadian crises such as this. Their experience and knowledge would be invaluable at this time.

Winter is here. People need electricity, shelter and drinking water to survive.   People are living in garden sheds, without proper heat or drinking water – in the middle of winter. And Stephen Harper’s plan is to send in an accountant with a cost to the band of $1,300-a-day. $1,300 a day could buy blankets, drinking water, and heated shelter for families who are suffering.

Six to a shack, housing in Attawapiskat

Six residents of Attawapiskat share this tented shack

This is the season of charity and giving in Canada.  It seems the government of Canada has forgotten that fact.  The people living in Attawapiskat are just that, people.  People who deserve basic human rights, a warm, safe, and healthy place to live, clean water and place to call home.