Canadian indigenous band declares state of emergency due to horrific conditions, government takes no notice

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.

What if They Declared an Emergency and No One Came?


  1. I e-mailed 4 politicians this morning and Angus is the only one that wrote back so far, before noon even.

    As for the fed money being pledged now, it’s definitely taken some time for them to finally come around considering the urgency. Better late than never.

  2. Just a question has this area ever received aid in the past? How did the area deteriorate to the degree that it has?

    Was it due to a natural disaster or something? Or did the residents just neglect to maintain the housing they had previously?

    1. In the last year they received $17M from (federal) Indian Affairs, $3.4M from casino income, $4.7M from the province of Ontario, and assorted other totaling $34M. Their expenditures (mostly wages and program delivery) totaled $31M for a surplus of $3M. See and specifically

      So yes, they’ve received aid in the past, and no, this wasn’t due to a natural disaster. Yes, it’s likely they’ve neglected to maintain housing- Canada’s Happy Fun Race Camps are infamous for many things including substance abuse and arson- but it’s unlikely that’s the only reason they’ve suffered.

      It should be noted that the article’s author is an NDP Minister of Parliament, on the same level of government and of a party loudly opposed to the current government, on which the author places the blame for the crisis. While there is undoubtedly a crisis, the author’s specific claim that all the fault is the federal government’s (and by implication his political opponents’) is probably too political in nature to be particularly useful. It may be better to hear what social workers in the area have to say about the causes of the issues than federal politicians.

  3. Consider viewing this Google Maps link. Grab Oscar and drag him onto the map, small blue dots will appear, you will find one or more images. It looks like there’s a bit of ongoing development.

  4. In other news, Harper’s military expansion in the arctic will cost about One Billion Dollars.

    This includes a $550,000 stealth snowmobile prototype, of course!

    For anyone wondering like orks WHY people would live in the Canadian Arctic – well, it’s complicated. The Canadian government, ahem, “encouraged” our friendly, semi-nomadic hunter gatherers to settle down and, you know, dig a mine or find oil or something. But it hasn’t really worked out that well – a lot of the settlements are so-called “human flagpoles,” only existing to prove that Canadians live in the Arctic so the Ruskies (or worse – ALASKANS) don’t move in.

    So what do you do when a settlement is falling apart and the people there don’t have the resources to move, and have had their traditional lifestyle stolen from them? If you’re our Prime Minister, you spend money on the military.

  5. I’m really more interested in how this came to pass than how conditions are at the moment. Health Canada has an obligation to inspect the facilities on reserve (including houses, food service facilities, institutions and water distribution facilities.)

    Health Canada, does not, however, have control over whether the recommendations it issues on facility quality are implemented. The best they can do is recommend to Aboriginal and Northern Affairs that funding be cut to the First Nation in question for failing to comply with sound recommendations.

    As far as healthcare goes, the First Nations pushed for independence in that matter a number of years ago. Primary and secondary care are no longer looked after by the Federal Government on reserve (though funding may be provided.)

  6. I don’t see any indication in this article of why conditions here have deteriorated so much so quickly.

    Their Wikipedia entry ( ), obviously maintained by one or more of the locals, complains of only receiving from the government half of the money needed to build a new school; but everything else seems as you might expect for a tiny community which settled that close to the Arctic Circle.

    You can’t fix it if you don’t what broke.

  7. parox, it seems health care is provided by the government, in the form od doctors who are flown in (the only way to get to Attawapiskat) on a regular basis. For emergencies and chronic care, air ambulance service is provided to the James Bay General Hospital, where there’s a dedicated Attawapiskat Wing.

  8. According to their Wikipedia entry, “Attawapiskat has grown from a settlement of temporary dwellings, such as tents and teepees, in the 1950s to a community with permanent buildings, which were constructed in the late 1960s and early 1970s.”  It also shows that they cable TV and internet.

    So this isn’t so much a case of things deteriorating.  It’s an aboriginal community recently living in tents and teepees that’s discovered the 21st century, discovered how folks in modern communities live, and they want the same.

    Of course the same thing has happened in NON-aboriginal remote communities.  Those communities have three choices; pay for it themselves, do without, or move to a larger community.  When I lived in the country I paid for my own well, paid for my own septic field, and I paid taxes for the local schools and roads.  The government doesn’t simply hand NON-aboriginal communities the 21st century, and frankly there’s no treaty obligation to do the same for aboriginal communities.

  9. Conservatives hate minorities, especially First Nation. Canada is going to be suffering for years still because of the Conservative majority government that our broken election system put into place with a minority vote.

  10. I am a bit confused by the assertion in the article that “not a single federal or provincial official has even bothered to visit the community.”  Isn’t it written by a duly elected Member of Parliament who just visited the community?  I don’t know, maybe I’m just splitting hairs, but an MP seems like an official to me.

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