Three weeks ago, Canada's Attawapiskat First Nation -- an indigenous community living on a treaty reservation -- took the unprecedented step of declaring a state of emergency. The community's housing is in such disarray that families are living in shanties and tents, and the temperatures are plunging well below freezing. However, not one federal or provincial official has taken notice of the state of emergency and come to visit the community. MP Charlie Angus's article on the horrific living conditions in Attawapiskat are an indictment of Canada's official indifference to its obligations in law to the treaty lands in its borders.
Two weeks ago I travelled to this community on the James Bay coast to see why conditions had become so extreme that local leaders felt compelled to declare a state of emergency. It was like stepping into a fourth world.
I spoke with one family of six who had been living in a tiny tent for two years. I visited elderly people living in sheds without water or electricity. I met children whose idea of a toilet was a plastic bucket that was dumped into the ditch in front of their shack.
Dr. John Waddell from the Weeneebayko Health Authority was in the community during this tour. He was emphatic that conditions had deteriorated to the point that an emergency situation was unfolding. Families are facing "immediate risk" of infection, disease and possible fire from their increasingly precarious conditions. Dr. Elizabeth Blackmore repeated this message of immediate risk just this past Friday at a press conference at Queen's Park.
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