In a remote town hundreds of kilometres from the nearest major city, families dump sewage into the ditch, their makeshift shacks and tents lacking plumbing. The only source of electricity for many of the tents comes from an extension cord strung from a nearby house. Children with endemic rashes attend schools that are slowly sinking into the ground, the gaps below the doors of the school letting in a cold winter draft.
This is not a developing country.
This is Attawapiskat.
This is Canada.
It’s no secret that the northern Aboriginal community is suffering. Throughout this last winter, hundreds of residents of the community have been housed in the health centre, waiting for better housing from the federal government. Despite the band council declaring a state of emergency last October, help with housing has not been terribly forthcoming.
Last weekend, the Montreal Gazette reported that two modular homes were nearing the Attawapiskat, but they were stalled short of the town because the sites that they will eventually sit on is still not prepared to hold a house, a situation involving a huge amount of red tape and a minimal amount of care on the part of the Federal government.
By Sunday, at least one of the prefab houses had finally arrived in the town, the first of a promised 22 that the government will provide to the isolated community. However, the concerns over the site preparation are still fresh and it remains to be seen whether this solitary shelter will be put up immediately.
If the thought of hundreds of people being housed in only 22 houses doesn’t seem to add up, that’s because it doesn’t. Despite the fact that only around 25 families live in shacks or tents, dozens more live in housing that is condemned. And while 22 prefab shelters will perhaps alleviate the problem for a while, they should not be intended to be permanent.
Frankly, this situation is nothing less than criminal. That we could allow people to live in these conditions is a violation of not only the spirit of the Treaty we’ve signed with them, but of basic human rights. It’s easier to ignore the struggles of humanity in far-off countries, but it’s unforgivable that we don’t help people right here, where we can do something real, substantial, and immediate to help them.
And the worst thing is that we can definitely do something about this. This is Canada, these people are Canadians, and it is our responsibility to do something about their plight. We have one of the wealthiest countries in the world, and yet we treat our own people like they don’t matter and scoff at spending any money to give them houses or build them schools. We’ve essentially determined the dollar value of doing something right.
The thought that the government would ever even consider placing a dollar amount on the well-being of its people, or a cost to giving them basic human rights and dignity, is disgusting. The idea that we can ignore treaty obligations because they are too costly is dishonourable and criminal.
This is the attitude of our government. I am embarrassed that this is how Canada treats its people. I am ashamed to be Canadian.