In Attawapiskat, “Canada’s Haiti,” dignity survives despite squalor

It’s -20C in Attawapiskat First Nation.

By Ossie Michelin
APTN National News
It’s -20C in Attawapiskat First Nation.

And as November turns to December, it’s only getting colder.

Many people here live in shacks with no insulation, in over-crowded trailers and dilapidated housing built decades ago.

People do what they can to stay warm.

While this may shock many Canadians in other parts of the country, here, this is the way of life.

This is a life where many go without running water and the bathroom is a slop bucket.

“People think we’re so rich on. On paper we are, but in reality we wouldn’t be in this crisis right now if we had a good deal,” said Chief Theresa Spence, who lost control of administering the band’s finances after the Conservative government put the community under the management of an outside consultant called third-party management.

While life is not easy here, people maintain their dignity and friendly manner.

People here want a better life for themselves and for the next generation.

Stella Wheesk and her newborn daughter live in a trailer complex with ninety other people – and only four bathrooms.

“When they open that door, there’s a big draft coming in. In the winter time there’s no heater in the hallway and the drafts come in through and the baby gets sick.”

Many of the buildings here are not fire safe and toxic mould creeps up the walls and ceilings

The elderly and the young are hit hardest

Short term relief has comes with Canadian Red Cross volunteers handing out sleeping bags and heaters.

But long term solutions are caught in the slow moving gears of Aboriginal affairs

“This is Canada’s Haiti, except it’s -20 right now,” said NDP MP Charlie Angus, whose riding of Timmins-James Bay includes the community.

Angus, who has almost single-handedly made Attawapiskat a household name, visited the community this week with NDP interim leader Nycole Turmel.

Spence says Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Duncan should come to the community and see for himself what things are like on the ground.

“He needs to come visit our community and get the true colour picture of what’s going on with the First Nations,” she said. “It’s not just Attawapiskat, it’s all over First Nations. He needs to really improve the funding, if he doesn’t our situation is going to get worse.”

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