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UPDATE: Karunananthan to speak at Attawapiskat forum this evening

Council of Canadians water campaigner Meera Karunananthan will be speaking at a public forum this evening titled, ‘Housing Crisis in Attawapiskat: the Way Forward‘. The event starts at 7:30 pm at the Centretown United Church in Ottawa. It features MP Charlie Angus who has been outspoken about the crisis in Attawapiskat. Admission is free, but donations are being accepted to Red Cross Emergency Relief Fund for Attawapiskat. The poster for event can be found at http://centretownunited.org/Attawapiskat%20december%206.pdf.

CTV recently reported, “Leadership in Attawapiskat (a Cree community of about 1,200 in northern Ontario) declared a state of emergency last month to draw attention to the living conditions there, with the public cry for help coming out of frustration with a lack of action from Aboriginal Affairs. Faced with a high number of dilapidated and rundown houses, and a lack of funds to repair them, a number of families have been forced to move into tents, uninsulated shacks and trailers left behind by mining crews. Canada’s national Aboriginal chief Shawn Atleo says the uproar over the squalor in the community may be a ‘moment of reckoning’ that finally shakes up the way Ottawa deals with First Nations.”

The Toronto Star adds, “Heather Ringrose, a family physician originally from just outside Hamilton, has been visiting this remote and beleaguered northern Ontario community for nearly two years. Based in Moose Factory, she travels north to Attawapiskat several times a month in order to treat people. She knows its problems. ‘There are homes that don’t have running water,’ she told the Toronto Star on Tuesday, speaking in a small room at the Weeneebayko Hospital. ‘They use buckets for waste.’”

This has been a long-standing situation. An Assembly of First Nations resolution from July 2000 stated, “The people of Attawapiskat for the past 3 years, have been unable to use tap water, as the water is untreated and the people must obtain their drinking and cooking water from Culligan units in the hospitals, schools, and the water plant…” GlobalNews notes, “October 2006 – Community officials accuse the federal government of refusing to sign a letter indicating the community’s water is safe to drink. …The community is also waiting for Ottawa to approve upgrades to its water treatment plant at the time; July 11, 2009 – A massive sewage flood dumps waste into eight buildings, which house 90 people. Both the provincial and federal government do not consider the sewage an emergency and do not evacuate the families.”

The Council of Canadians calls on the federal and provincial governments to take emergency action to ensure the United Nations-recognized right to water and sanitation for the people of Attawapiskat. Angus, who is speaking at the public forum this evening, has written, “Nothing will really change until there is action from the officials whose job it is to ensure that these citizens of Ontario and Canada are treated with a basic level of respect and dignity. The cold winter winds are hitting James Bay. People may die if nothing is done. In a country as rich and as just as Canada this is simply unacceptable.”

The Council has also called for significant investment into the drinking water and sanitation systems of First Nations across the country. The Council and the Assembly of First Nations have both supported the Alternative Federal Budget’s call for $1 billion to be spent this fiscal year to build, upgrade and maintain water and wastewater infrastructure in First Nation communities (as well as $1 billion in 2012-13 and 2013-14). The CBC has reported, “A recent federal government-commissioned assessment of water and sewer services on reserves, which was released in April 2011, looked at the water and sewer systems of 571 First Nations (with a total population of 484,321 and 112,836 ‘dwellings’) and evaluated their water source and how well each system was designed, operated and monitored. …The national assessment estimates that it would cost $846 million to bring reserve water systems in line with Aboriginal Affairs and North Development Canada’s own policies and $316 million to do the same for wastewater systems. …To meet and maintain all current and future water and wastewater needs on reserves for the next 10 years would cost $4.7 billion in servicing and would require an annual operating and maintenance budget of $419 million.”