Despite the fact that the media has been discussing the story for about three or four weeks I had not yet gotten a chance to write on this issue. I figured before delving into an issue that was inevitably less critical I should address the concerns of a reserve in Northern Ontario.
A few months ago I started following Charlie Angus (NDP MP – Timmins-James Bay) on Twitter. Not long after the May election I recall he began tweeting about the terrible conditions on a reserve in Northern Ontario. I looked at the pictures and read his comments. I don’t think I had an appreciation of the problems in the north. I suppose I should say honestly that familiarity bred contempt, or more accurately indifference.
Any quick Google search will reveal a plethora of images and articles on the Attawapiskat. The issue confronting this remote reserve is similar to many across the near-north: chronic housing problems, sanitation, health, a dismal economy, and poor governance.
It has bothered me how political this story has become so quickly. Obviously the Loyal Opposition wants to demonstrate the heartlessness of the federal government, and the government wants to defend its own record, but this partisanship ignores the fundamental humanitarian crisis occurring on the reserve. It’s December, and at this time of year we tend to open our wallets. If you are interested in making a donation or contribution you can look at this article in the Globe and Mail.
I am embarrassed by the federal government’s reaction to the crisis in Attawapiskat. Prime Minister Stephen Harper has refused to visit the reserve, and will only be meeting with Aboriginal leaders for the first time on this coming Thursday. I do not understand the lack of action by the federal government. Even if you disagree with the calls for substantial investment in Attawapiskat and other reserves, there is no reason that emergency actions should not be taken. Attawapiskat should be evacuated and its people taken from the dangerous conditions present there.
The third-party representative sent by the federal government has been sent packing, and for good reason. The Conservative government needs to take direct responsibility for the conditions on this reserve. If they will not the public has to step up and demand action, and offer their support. These conditions are unacceptable, and we can address the larger implications for Aboriginal policy after that the initial crisis has passed.