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Attawapiskat Crisis


Ottawa Offers Evacuation To Troubled Reserve

The government is prepared to evacuate some residents of a Northern Ontario reserve until better housing can be brought in, the aboriginal affairs minister says. The other immediate solution to the reserve’s housing shortage would be to retrofit a sportsplex and a healing centre as short-term accommodations, John Duncan told Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence in a letter sent Wednesday. Duncan said an assessment of the community suggests 15 modular homes would address the needs of families currently living in shacks and tents. Duncan said the manager is prepared to buy the homes immediately so they can be delivered as soon as the winter roads open. Evacuation or the retrofit are two options for the interim, he said. “I again cannot stress enough the need to work with the third party manager, our government and our partners to ensure the health and safety of the community,” Duncan wrote. “I believe the two options above are fair and reasonable offers.”

Ottawa removed the band’s power over its own finances last week. But on Monday band members told the government-appointed manager to leave the reserve. Mushkegowuk Grand Chief Stan Louttit said he was analyzing the letter and reviewing it with Attawapiskat First Nation. “I cannot speak on the issue prior to the review by community leadership,” he said. It remains up to the band council to accept or reject the offered solutions. Spence was not immediately available for comment. In the letter, Duncan asked to meet with her to discuss the choices. The two had met earlier this week. Attawapiskat’s current financial straits and housing crisis are linked to a 2009 sewage backup which forced families out of their homes. The government wouldn’t pay to evacuate them, so the band did it themselves, throwing them into debt. The homes have still not been repaired. In the letter, Duncan also said wood stoves, compost toilets and cots were on their way into the community of about 2,000 people near James Bay. He also offered additional health-care resources.

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