Winter Arriving Faster Than Help in Attawapiskat Crisis

People in the Northern Ontario community of Attawapiskat are living in crowded, unsanitary, tents heated by makeshift wood stoves.  It has been almost two months since the Attawapiskat First Nation declared a State of Emergency because of the immediate threat to the health of the families living in deplorable conditions. Unfortunately, at this point, winter is coming faster than help in what is being called “Canada’s Third World.”

Appalling Conditions Continue

When interim Liberal leader Bob Rae visited Attawapiskat last week, he told the CBC: “Some of the living conditions here — with the shacks that we’re seeing here — are pretty extreme, but at the same time, it’s certainly not unusual to many [aboriginal] communities across the country.” CBC describes the situation:

Large families remain crammed into cold, mould-stained shacks with no bathroom or running water. More than 90 people live in an old construction trailer with no smoke alarms and doors that are padlocked at night to keep vandals out. Fresh produce is predictably expensive. Oranges, for example, cost more than $10 for a three-pound bag at the local grocery store — when they’re on sale.

The current conditions are simply deplorable and create a significant fire and health hazard, with risks of burns and severe illness.

Photo: Attawapiskat Burn Victim

Federal Government Punishes First Nation with Third Party Management

Instead of immediately sending help for the residents of Attawapiskat to ensure safe and sanitary living conditions, the federal government decided to send a third party manager to oversee their finances. The third party manager isn’t even a crisis manager, he is a bean counter that was brought in to oversee their finances with no apparent fiscal reason for doing so. In the Huffington Post Canada, Andreas Krebs describes the problem:

So, for 10 years, Attawapiskat has had an outside manager — one they agreed to — working with them to ensure fiscal accountability. As Chief Theresa Spence has repeatedly stated, her Nation’s books are open and available for perusal. They have been audited numerous times, and have never shown any accounting irregularities. Like all First Nations, Attawapiskat’s funding is subject to very strict accountability measures, with spending requiring pre-approval by Ottawa. Effectively, First Nations spend a great deal of their time proving to the federal government they have done what they claim to have done with their funding. In fact, Attawapiskat has been meeting these accountability measures, with the help and guidance of their co-manager.

Ultimately, when the community desperately needs help with housing issues, the government is instead punishing them and spending much-needed-funds on accounting exercises.

Some Help Promised

Some minimal help is being promised by the federal government at this time. They have promised to help turn the community’s healing center into a temporary shelter. According to the London Free Press, this will require a significant amount of work because the lodge doesn’t currently have running water or a sewage system. Familes are expected to be able to move into the lodge by December 23rd if the work goes as planned, but Charlie Angus, the Member of Parliament for the area is skeptical: “At this point, it’s going to be Christmas in tents,” he told the London Free Press .  The lodge will be used as emergency shelter until the planned arrival of 22 modular homes in mid-January.  In addition to government help, the Red Cross has been delivering necessities (generators, sleeping bags, heaters) to the community using $300,000 in donations that it received.

Long Term Solutions Needed

Opposition party leaders and Members of Parliament have visited the reserve and seen the appalling conditions. Liberal leader Bob Rae  and aboriginal affairs critical Carolyn Bennett visited the community in December. NDP leader Nycole Turmel visited Attawapiskat along with the community’s Member of Parliament, Charlie Angus, in November. The Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, has no plans to visit and the Aboriginal Affairs Minister may visit sometime in 2012. The fact that Harper has no plans to visit and that not even the responsible minister has visited, clearly shows what a small priority Attawapiskat is for the government.

On the Huffington Post Canada, Krebs concludes that Canadians are displeased with Harper’s approach and that many of them are starting to ask questions about the relationship between the federal government and First Nations communities. He hopes that Canadians asking deep questions will “lead to more constructive and respectful relations to enable First Nations to truly flourish as members of the Canadian federation.”

Right now, however, winter is coming and the bickering needs to stop. The federal government needs to stop playing games and making false statements (e.g. that Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence accepted third party management) and send the help the community needs. If the current model of management and relations between First Nations and the federal government isn’t working, then that needs to be fixed using a collaborative approach. However, the priority right now needs to be ensuring safe living conditions.

Sign the petition to Demand Action for the Attawapiskat First Nation.

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Images used with permission from Charlie Angus, Member of Parliament.


Terri Hughes
Terri Hughes6 years ago

''SIGNED''......these poor people need help, NOW. This is a shame that they have to live like this. Mr Harper, get off your dead ass and do something to help these people. You should be ashamed of yourself. But, I'm sure you could care less how the poor people have to live, while you are living in your nice warm house, with plenty of food. Hope you choke on the next bite you take. HELP these people, they don't deserve to live like this!!!!

DaretoCare Still

Patrick F: Thank you for your comment re my page. Laughter is perhaps the shortest distance between two people. I wonder however why it is that some feel obligated to point the finger constantly at this newly minted government without ever pausing to consider the actions of the one previous? Things like all the screaming about Kyoto, NOTHING to implement thereafter, and yet the current goverment are the bad guys for being forced to rectify the years of doing nothing by recognizing the impossibility and cost of compliance by opting out? But thats another topic isnt it? n/m)
Ernest R: The Lubicon Cree? (A disgraceful ongoing shame - perhaps you might want to submit an article about it? I do not see the connection between roads in Alberta and the delivery of homes in Ontario on non existant roads- please enlighten me. Obfuscation of THIS issue neither solves nor teaches anything to anybody.
Siusaidh C. - Thank you for pointing me to a very interesting read. I did not find anything in the way of explaining the complexity of this current situation there although I did find some interesting and perhaps workable long term solutions to what might be termed cultural genocide, and I agree whole heartedly with the sentiment of NOT blaming the victims.(Perhaps if I go thru the entire site and not just a couple of pages)

Ernest R.
Ernest R7 years ago

@ dare toCare S—“Or perhaps you are suggesting that the government has some kind of magic wand which they can wave and there will suddenly be a road capable of sending trailers down, but they are refusing to use it?” I am suggesting that the government apparently had a magic wand that suddenly produced a railroad that enabled the Japanese ‘Showa’ pulp company to transport wood stripped from the Lubicon Cree area , that had never been ceded by the tribe, who are now no longer able to live off their desolated land, making them just another bunch of lazy drunken bum Indians that don’t deserve our generous welfare. Aren’t we wonderful ?

Aquillion V.
Aquillion V7 years ago

Indigenous peoples forced to live in these appalling conditions by illegal invaders and illegal occupiers of their lands, all around the world, are being used to create jobs for non-indigenous peoples. It is time for non-Indigenous peoples, the public in all comunities, to take a stand and make a difference as individuals and as groups. 'They' - the governments, policy makers and administrators are not going to change and act any more humanely anytime soon. It is up to 'US' the people, to start 'paying the rent'. It is up to us to give monies and assistance DIRECTLY to Indigenous peoples and thier communities, bypassing processes which currently eat up obscene amounts of monies in wages payed to non-Indigenous people to 'administer' and 'advice'. Here, in Australia, Indigenous peoples are treated with same lack of humanity by the governments. As a result I have realised it is no longer ok to wait for someone else to fix this, I selected an Indigenous community whom i send payments directly to,
in order to insure that money i give to them, is actually going directly towards helping them. If enough people were to give a community in need a small amount each week or month then it would make a huge difference. Paying the rent is also about acknowledging that as non-Indigenous peoples we are benefitting everyday from lands and resources stolen and misappropriated from Indigenous peoples. Peoples who remain inter-dependant on the vitality and health of their lands and are now livi

Siusaidh C.
Susan C7 years ago

This explanation of the situation at Attawapiskat is by a Plains Cree Métis woman now studying law in Montreal.

Although the situation is complex and grief of very longstanding, it can be understood. Don't blame the victims!

Patrick F.
Patrick f7 years ago

DaretoCare S. Love what you did with your profile page, got a few chuckles.

I am not a fan of Harper(obviously), wonder if people would actually take the time to vote now that they know him a bit better....

Patrick F.
Patrick f7 years ago

DaretoCare. S You don't understand? Ok, you know where your heart is? Well with Harper, it's a lump of coal, hahahaha

DaretoCare Still

Hi Patrick F. - I don't quite understand your comment. Are you trying to say that this is somehow a new issue? Or perhaps you are suggesting that the government has some kind of magic wand which they can wave and there will suddenly be a road capable of sending trailers down, but they are refusing to use it?

Richard Zane makes some very good points (star sent) regarding the bastardization of the matriarchial system which might have helped to prevent some of this unholy mess (on the bands side of things) -Was that Harpers fault as well? Ongoing issues for TWELVE years - maybe the ruling party during most of that time might have pulled their respective heads out of their nether regions and done something about these shocking, ongoing issues much sooner - these same issues which we (the general public) are for some reason, only now aware of. I don't have any fast and easy solutions - but I am certain that things should never have been permitted to get this bad. My prayers go out to those people living in such abominable conditions.

Patrick F.
Patrick f7 years ago

Harper has a lump of coal where most people have their heart. He might make the country look good on paper but only on paper, in reality, he is an incompetent, foolish puppet.

Victoria Pitchford
Vicky P7 years ago

that's terrible :/ and a lot of people just don't care enough