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Activist Communique: If white people lived in Attawapiskat

If white people lived in Attawapiskat, this "crisis" would never have happened.

If white people lived in Attawapiskat, there would be no acute housing "crisis," period. It's not fair to consider the housing situation there an acute crisis since racism is the root cause of the historical, consistent and systemic neglect of First Nation issues in Canada.

If white people lived in Attawapiskat, the Canadian Red Cross would not be flying in today to help assist in the "crisis" as if the reserve was in some foreign, impoverished nation while government dithers on a concrete plan.

Attawapiskat First Nation (Cree: ᐋᐦᑕᐙᐱᐢᑲᑐᐎ ᐃᓂᓂᐧᐊᐠ ) is an isolated First Nation located in Kenora District in Northern Ontario; located at the mouth of the Attawapiskat River from James Bay. According to Indian and Northern Affairs Canada statistics, there were 2,800 registered members of the Attawapiskat First Nation. The on-reserve population of Attawapiskat was 1,293 according to the Statistics Canada 2001 Census.

The Chief of the Attawapiskat reserve has begged the Ontario government to evacuate them from the "Third World" conditions they have been forced to live in for the past two years despite living in Canada.

Families there have been living in makeshift tents and shacks without heat, electricity and indoor plumbing, using buckets as washroom facilities.

The government of Ontario, while acknowledging the state of emergency that Chief Theresa Spence declared on October 28, 2011, has yet to announce concrete plans to renovate or build more housing, or as a last resort, temporarily evacuate residents to safer accommodations.

Triggered by this lack of concrete solutions, the Canadian Red Cross is flying into the community today to assist in the rescue effort -- just as the Red Cross has flown into conflict and crisis situations in developing nations -- but this time within Canada.

I want to note this is not an environmental disaster or a region destroyed by war, but a First Nation reserve left to rot for lack of care and the consequence of racism-based neglect.

Regarding on-reserve housing, 41.5 per cent of homes on reserves need major repairs, compared with seven per cent in non-aboriginal households outside reserves. The community is in debt because it was forced to pay for an evacuation two years ago when a sewage -- poor, neglected infrastructure -- backup left 100 people homeless.

The Department of Aboriginal Affairs has pledged $2.5 million to fix the housing crisis in a too-little, too-late move, and has yet to release an actual plan of action for the reserve.

NDP MP Charlie Angus (Timmins-James Bay) reports that five families are living in tents, while another 19 families are living in sheds without running water. One hundred people are living in tents or in leftover construction trailers.

In a press release, National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations Shawn A-in-chut Atleo said he was pleased the Red Cross had stepped forward and expressed his full support for Chief Spence on behalf of First Nations leaders across Canada.

"We should all be shocked and appalled as I am and we must all answer this call," Atleo said in the statement. "I have seen these same deplorable and heart-wrenching situations throughout many remote and northern communities. This is why First Nations leaders are calling on the federal government and others to work with us now on transformative change.

"We simply cannot afford to lose another generation," Atleo's statement concludes. "We owe it to them to provide them every opportunity to realize their potential."

If white people lived in Attawapiskat, this would have never happened.

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