THUNDER BAY – Editorial – Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Duncan has not visited Attawapiskat over the housing, health and safety emergency declared by the First Nation late last year. The Minister has relied on reports from his officials. There is something to be said when elected representatives get a first hand look at a situation. It allows them to put in place solutions that fit the situation.
There is also a political risk, as the media could call down the politician and accuse them of “grand-standing” or of getting in the way of solutions. Right now it is time, time for leadership.
Why? It has come to light that Minister Duncan’s earlier promises on the delivery of modular homes to Attawapiskat are falling behind, Likely it is time for the Minister to grab his winter coat and boots and head north, the Minister needs to get first hand facts.
(Video shot by Chris Kataquapit – All rights reserved)
On January 5th the Minister stated, “Our Government continues to put the health and safety of the people of Attawapiskat first. Since the community declared a State of Emergency, we have acted quickly to ensure the residents of Attawapiskat had access to safe shelter and were provided with urgent necessities and to ensure that long-term housing would be made available as soon as possible.
Minister Duncan added, “We worked quickly with our partners, such as Emergency Management Ontario and the Canadian Red Cross, and have delivered urgent supplies such as composting toilets, high efficiency heaters, building supplies, cots, and sanitary products. Twenty-two modular homes were also purchased and will be delivered to the community as soon as the winter roads open. So that families could access safe, warm shelter, our Government retrofitted the healing lodge for any of the 25 families living in tents and shacks as temporary shelter. We reiterate that there is space in the healing lodge to accommodate families who require safe, warm shelter”.
Now, people are reportedly leaving the Healing Lodge, there are no telephones, and the facility is located six kilometres from the community.
The added isolation from the community felt by people staying in the Healing Lodge is a factor.
The modular homes that the Minister said would be delivered are apparently stalled. The sites to put the homes on are not prepared. Maybe, the declaration of an emergency that Chief Spence issued was more realistic than the Minister’s people understood?
Right now, the Minister needs to get this situation moving toward a solution. The issue appears more one of understanding and logistics than anything else.
It also appears that Minister Duncan has been perhaps relied too much on reports on paper rather than gathering needed first hand ‘boots on the ground’ facts from his own impressions.
Chief Spence stated, in a sworn affidavit, “In August 2011, Monique Sutherland, Attawapiskat’s housing manager approached me to express her concern that many members were asking for more construction materials to repair their homes ot to fortify tents and shacks. There were no funds or other resources available to provide the building materials that members were requesting”.
Spence added that efforts and communication with Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development continued through September and October.
The State of Emergency was declared on October 28th 2011.
On November 9 2011, Attawapiskat received confirmation that $500,000 to render homes safe and habitable. In late November, Attawapiskat Council was already moving toward the purchase of modular homes.
Minister Duncan has a responsibility, and an opportunity in Attawapiskat. He could, through his actions in the First Nation community put the Prime Minister’s statements about his government making real progress forward as a shining example.
Or he could keep doing what he has been doing. One path would lead to success, the other, well to certain failure.
Which one should he choose? Which one would you choose if you were Minister Duncan?
If it were my choice, I would expect Canadians will soon be seeing Minister Duncan in Attawapiskat demonstrating leadership and solving this situation.
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