Red Cross Declares Emergency in Attawapiskat

Attawapiskat a First Nations Cree community in northern Ontario near James Bay has called on the government for assistance in dealing with a shortage of housing. The situation is being called a crisis. About 1,800 people live in the northern Ontario community, where a severe housing shortage has forced families to live in tents and unheated trailers, some without access to running water and electricity. The emergency crisis was declared about a month ago and the Red Cross arrived on Tuesday to aid families living in tents with temperatures as low as -20c or -4f.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper sprung into action saying that the community got $90 million in federal since 2006. He blamed inadequate management by the local band council as the source of the failure. In response he’s ordered the community to be put under third-party management and have an audit done to find where the money went. He said:

“There’s a need, obviously, for more services and infrastructure. There is also clearly a need for better management. The government will ensure both of those things.”

“That’s over $50,000 for every man, woman and child in the community. Obviously we’re not very happy that the results do not seem to have been achieved for that, we’re concerned about that, we have officials looking into it and taking action.”

Interim Liberal Leader Bob Rae responded to Mr. Harper by saying that the $90 million figure is misleading. It includes many services education, water, sewers and housing infrastructure.

The CBC’s Adrienne Arsenault has been reporting that the $90 million that has been spread over 6 years has been spent on many services. These are services normally covered by municipalities or the provinces elsewhere in the country. In Ontario these are covered by the federal government under the Indian Act. This money is not spent on a single community. It is spread over several communities in the north of Ontario. She said the sum left for housing is about $1 million, which, in the North, can build about four houses.

The indigenous community has not responded as the Conservative government had hoped. The residents of the area and First Nations decried the call to have a third party inspect the books and perform an audit. Many have claimed that as they have called for help the government has punished them for it.

Assembly of First Nations National Chief Shawn Atleo spoke about the crisis:

“Ottawa knows best what is for First Nations and imposes its will? That legacy has not worked and that is the status quo we must smash.”

Unfortunately in this situation the division of funds per-capital is not an adequate way of measuring resources. People don’t understand how expensive infrastructure is. Even limited roads, sewage, electricity would cost tens to hundreds of millions of dollars. A team of engineers and fully equipped work crews can cost tens of thousands of dollars a day. The shipping costs of getting construction materials that far north is astronomical. I support such an audit, I sincerely doubt any significant abnormalities will be found.

This is a very typical scene throughout Canada and the US. The indigenous population has been left in rotting conditions. Those who would tout the supposed greatness and the supposed successes of Western capitalism always seem to forget about this section of the population. Instead attention is focused on the profits of large firms and tall skyscrapers in large cities. Nicely far away from the realities of the desperate poverty that still exists despite those achievements.

For those interested in facts, a link to the actual Attawapiskat budget has been provided in the description.