The situation in Attawapiskat is degenerating into a massive blame game

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AttawapiskatTHUNDER BAY – The situation in Attawapiskat is degenerating into a massive blame game exercise. The plight of the people who are living in the shacks and tents are being addressed by the Red Cross, and by individuals who are seeing past the blame game. That is because apparently some in Canada have the skill to do so. When you see a car accident, the first step isn’t assessing blame, it is helping the injured and securing the situation so that other people will not be injured.

Those are the first steps in any crisis situation. There will be lots of time later for the political blame game, if that is all the politicians seek to do. One can hope, and work however toward real solutions, that will help build community capacity in these northern communities which will make a difference.

What has however been missed in the reporting of the situation in Attawapiskat is that there is good news and an impetus for positive change in the community. For example, in the now viral video, if one were to have turned the camera around, viewers could have seen the fairly new sub-division of homes, about 70 new homes that are five or six bedroom homes. What isn’t also shared in the video is one of the persons now living in one of the tents, was living in one of the new five bedroom homes. That person choose to move out, reportedly from what sources tell NNL because she was seeing ghosts in the new home.

kataquapit innThere are also many success stories with local businesses in Attawapiskat too. The MKS Store for example is a business privately owned and operated that services the community. There are two locally run motels in Attawapiskat as well. The Okimaws Motel, and the Kataquapit Inn. The Red Cross workers currently in Attawapiskat are staying at the Kataquapit Inn. While the rooms are small by some standards, there is a warmth and professionalism offered by the staff.

There are seventeen joint ventures currently ongoing with De Beers, the diamond mining giant as well. Profits from the joint ventures are placed in a trust fund that has set rules in place to access those funds. One is a solid business plan.

The community has come under fire for having its priorities mixed up in building a hockey arena, the Reg Louttit Sports Complex. What isn’t being said is that there was federal funds, and that $350,000 was raised in the community by holding events including bingos to raise the money that purchased the Zamboni. In otherwords, the critical comments on the community for spending “government money” to purchase the Zamboni are being made by people who have not researched their story.

The Minister has discussed that people could be taken from the tents and shacks, and could live in the Healing Lodge. That Lodge is located off reserve, and while there is a ten bedroom home there, it would need water and sewer before it could be considered suitable for full time accomodation.

Perhaps the Minister, or his Parliamentary Secretary Greg Rickford MP (Kenora) needs to put boots on the ground so that the Minister has a more complete picture than his officials seem able to provide.

On Friday in the House of Commons, Rickford, under fire from the Opposition stated, “The government works with first nations to deliver real results for their priorities. We have invested heavily in first nation schools, including in Attawapiskat, and in water and waste water infrastructure, health and housing, and we have done this all in full partnership with first nations”. Rickford spent time in the 1990’s working in northern Ontario First Nations communities. It is apparent likely that the Prime Minister has made a good choice in putting Rickford into his role as Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister.

Rickford stated on Friday, “We have a plan. We will continue to invest in practical solutions and real results”.

The full story of Attawapiskat is not fully out yet.

There are about 2000 residents in Attawapiskat. There are about five percent of the people currently struggling in the community’s housing crisis. In the trailers that De Beers donated to the community, those Atco trailers have been opened up inside in many cases to make a reasonable short-term housing solution.

It is likely time to end the blame game, and get everyone focused on solutions. What will be lost if this situation continues to play out as a blame game is that as soon as the next media circus starts, the eyes of the public will shift, and nothing will happen.

A discussion on what solutions can be applied in Attawapiskat is needed. It is equally likely that those solutions could be applied to other communities in Canada facing similar problems. As some here in the south are starting to read, and discover Attawapiskat is not the only place where there are problems.

The biggest long term solution one that is being chronically underfunded. That is education on Canada’s First Nations. Think of it, if the young people do not gain the opportunities of a quality education, they are in effect condemned to a life of being left behind. It is an issue that has gone on for a long time, and one likely that could continue. Breaking the cycle means having education funding, schools that will allow young people to compete in the 21st century, and making learning fun.

Contact NorthOn December 1, 2011, Contact North and Attawapiskat First Nation have signed a one year Pilot Project Agreement Co-Venturing Agreement. Contact North offers online and distance education which will provide an opportunity to help deliver a wide range of college, university, high school, literacy and basic skills and other training opportunities to residents of Attawapiskat First Nation.

This project will help open doors for the First Nation. Contact North is funded by the Ontario Ministry of Training and Colleges. In 2007, the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities (Ministry) asked Contact North to use its expertise and experience in distance and online education to establish a network of centres in communities across Eastern, Central & Western Ontario to provide local access to education and training opportunities. The new centres would be established using Contact North’s successful model that has been providing local access to education and training opportunities for residents of small, remote and First Nation communities in Northern Ontario for 24 years.

Attawapiskat First Nation is the latest co-venture for Contact North. The leadership is looking to the future, not just at right now, as some would like you to think.

The other big issue in the north is housing. Houses in northern communities cost more money to build, and more money to heat than in southern communities. One of the constants appears to be that there isn’t enough capacity in many northern communities to build and maintain houses. That is more an issue of training and education likely than anything else. Perhaps what is needed is a little of the success ointment that Habitat for Humanity uses. A person who gets a home through Habitat for Humanity is partnered with that home, they help to build it, and then they take the skills that they learned and help in the building of future homes.

Attawapiskat is doing that already, under one of their programs, the person seeking funds, to build a house for example, must met specific guidelines, including the investment of “sweat equity”.

There are 2000 residents of Attawapiskat living on the reserve, and about another 2000 people who are living off reserve. The general impression being created by some in the media, is that all the people are living in shacks and tents. That isn’t true, there are many people in the community who are working very hard, and striving to make their lives and the lives of their families better.

When we seek balance, we will see the community of Attawapiskat, and other Northern communities start to thrive and grow. No one would dispute that there are problems in Attawapiskat, but it is not balanced to simply report one side of that story. Too many are doing that already, and it is generating greater problems for the First Nations people of Canada.

James Murray
Chief Content Officer

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