Canada’s opposition leader, federal and provincial officials, the Red Cross and even a diamond mine operator on Tuesday responded to a housing emergency in a tiny native community in the far north.
The chief of the Attawapiskat First Nations on the shores of James Bay declared a state of emergency in October to provoke government action to address a housing shortage, as a cold winter loomed. A massive response came this week.
The Red Cross sent generators, heaters, winter clothing and insulated sleeping equipment, while South African diamond mining giant De Beers, which operates a nearby mine, offered the community temporary trailers that it normally uses to house workers.
Opposition leader Nycole Turmel visited the community and issued a statement slamming the federal government for allowing “Third World” conditions to sprout in one of the world’s richest nations.
“Winter is approaching and the situation is deteriorating,” she said. “They are in urgent need of emergency aid and adequate funding to renovate their homes and build new ones to put an end to this crisis.”
Turmel described the living conditions in the community of 2,000 people as “horrible,” while Liberal leader Bob Rae called it “an embarrassment to the reputation of the entire country.”
Nineteen families in Attawapiskat are living in makeshift tents and sheds, 122 families are living in condemned housing and 96 people are living in a large portable trailer.
With no running water, heat or electricity, many are using buckets as toilets and reportedly sleep in fear of fire because of wood-burning stoves in their homes.
The families have been living in these conditions because they had to move out of old deteriorating homes and also to accommodate a growing population.
Canadian Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Duncan said officials are now in the community trying to solve some of these issues.
However, he deflected blame for the housing situation, saying the government has invested C$92 million (US$89 million) in Attawapiskat since 2006.
“That is [C]$52,000 for every man, woman and child. We are not getting the results that we thought we should get,” he said.