Band-Aid Fix: Modular Homes Sent to Attawapiskat

The situation in the Attawapiskat First Nation community that sees residents living in third-world conditions in a country as rich and plentiful as Canada is a shame on a nation that prides itself on its prosperity, diversity, history and propensity for caring for those in need.

This morning, in a move likely intended as much for the image rehabilitation of a woefully inept government minister as it is for relief for the people of Attawapiskat, Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Duncan announced that 15 modular homes would be sent to the community as soon as the weather permits. This comes on the heels of the federal government’s highly criticized announcement that the reserve would be responsible for paying an appointed third-party manager $1,300 a day (or about $300,000 a year) out of their own budget to, ironically, help get their finances in order.

It’s housing, not financial management, that poses the most imminent threat to the Attawapiskat people though. As the temperatures continue to drop in the remote James Bay community, many, including children and the elderly, live in shacks, tents or trailers without running water or electricity. While the modular homes will benefit some, it’s a bandage on a much deeper wound.

In October of this year, Attawapiskat declared a state of emergency – its third in three years – which received national attention thanks to the efforts of local NDP MP Charlie Angus. Evidently, the repeated calls for help and personal visits to the community by federal government representatives were not enough to alert Duncan, whose job includes addressing the concerns of aboriginal communities, to the fact that a housing crisis exists in the community.

As well, the residue of a July 2009 sewage spill continues to contaminate an area of land neighbouring the ramshackle homes.  Meanwhile, down the road from the impoverished reserve, De Beers Canada operates an extremely profitable diamond mine that has battled with the reserve over concerns both financial and environmental.

– Mike Crisolago