Attawapiskat partly at fault for housing crisis: Duncan

Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Duncan said Friday that the housing crisis gripping the northern Ontario First Nation of Attawapiskat is partly of its own making.

APTN National News
OTTAWA-
-Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Duncan said Friday that the housing crisis gripping the northern Ontario First Nation of Attawapiskat is partly of its own making.

Duncan said during question period in the House of Commons that the community has problem handling its own finances and this has hindered its ability to improve the living conditions of its 2,000 residents.

“The community has a number of challenges. One of them is its financial challenge,” said Duncan. “It has an indebtedness that is getting in the way of a lot of other progress that could be made.”

Duncan said his officials would be visiting the community next week to discuss the unfolding situation.

“We are deeply concerned about the situation,” said Duncan, responding to a question from NDP MP Charlie Angus who has spearheaded aid efforts for the community. “We have had ongoing discussions with the chief and council in order to make progress on addressing these issues.”

Angus later told reporters that the community was in debt because it was force to pay for an evacuation two years ago when a sewage back-up left 100 people homeless.

“They had to pay for the cost of looking after their own people because they had no place to put them in the community,” said Angus. “So, like I’ve been saying all along, a crisis like this doesn’t happen by accident. It’s the result of a chronic mismanagement at the level of Indian Affairs.”

NDP Leader Nycole Turmel and Angus are expected to visit the community next week as well.

For weeks, the community, which declared a state of emergency, has been pleading for help. The Registered Nurses Association of Ontario recently wrote a letter to the prime minister and premier of Ontario describing the slum-like situation facing residents in the community as “life threatening” and “inhumane.”

The numbers in this community paint a stark picture: 19 families live in shacks with no running water; 122 families live in condemned housing; 96 people live in one industrial-sized trailer and 268 new houses are needed immediately.

Many residents, including the elderly and children, are using the toilet in pails that are then dumped into ditches.

Department officials met with Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence on Thursday in Thunder Bay, Ont., and told her there was $2 million available for housing in the community, but the department needed an assessment and a proposal before any money is released.

The federal department has already committed $500,000 to get several families living in tents into housing before winter hits the community, which sits at the place where the Attawapiskat River meets James Bay.

The Canadian Red Cross is also expected to be in a teleconference with Angus, federal and provincial officials, along with Spence this afternoon to discuss their role in the community.

It has been ongoing in talks with the federal government, Emergency Management Ontario and the province’s ministry of Aboriginal Affairs to see what role it can play in the crisis.

“The situation is causing an international outcry and Canadians are rightly saying, how can this happen in a country as rich as Canada?” said Angus, during question period.

Angus’ office has received offers of aid for Attawapiskat from places like Germany, New Zealand and even Haiti.

The crisis is also spurring some in other First Nations communities, like Akwesasne, to also consider sending aid.

With temperatures dropping, community leaders fear death looms for the residents here.

Children are already suffering from illnesses and high fever and the flu is starting hit, said Monique Sutherland, the housing manager for the community.

“It is getting scary where the temperatures are dropping every week and we are getting nervous,” said Sutherland, who lives in a two-and-a-half bedroom trailer with six other people.

Sutherland’s oldest son was forced to live in a shack because there was no more room.

Online Producer / Ottawa

Before moving to become the APTN News social media producer, Mark was the executive producer for the news in eastern Canada. Before starting with APTN in 2009, Mark worked at CBC Radio and Television in Newfoundland and Labrador and Ottawa.

2 thoughts on “Attawapiskat partly at fault for housing crisis: Duncan

  1. $2million for new houses will build 8 maybe and there is a need for 268. not even close to enough. This is how badly this portfolio has been mismanaged.

  2. u00a0Why is Charlie Angus focuing on Attawapiskat only? It’s not just Attawapiskat, look at all reserves in the NAN region that need emergency housing…and other reserves. You have to see the bigger picture to wonder where he is taking this and for whom? As much as I have a lot of respect for the man, you have to question authority and not just nod your head and go along with the parade every time…. Our grandchildren need not be cheated or used as pawns in politics, our great-grandparents lived life in ‘natural’ homes and survived, our grand-parents lived in both of how they grew up and in ‘modern’ houses, we lived in these houses growing up and now most of us who are in our middle years and 50s do not own houses in reserves or towns and cities. It’s a crisis all around.u00a0I believe DeBeers Canada ought to give Attawapiskat residences new houses which will not have mould problems and be enviro-economically designed, instead of simply handing $$$$$$$$$$ to the chief and council…this ensures for sure they mee…t the peoples’ needs and solve the housing crisis…you don’t need government or the media just to get the hoopla … it’s simple, just propose to DeBeers what the people of James Bay need and want in place of handing out money ………that’s a self-government process.

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