Community crisis prompts Attawapiskat First Nation to halt traffic in downtown Timmins

TIMMINS, ON, Aug. 12 – On July 25, 2009, ninety members of Attawapiskat First Nation were evacuated from their community to the town of Cochrane, On when sewage back up contaminated eight of their housing units. The Chief and Council had declared a state of emergency. However, their declaration fell on deaf ears. Both the department of Indian Affairs and Emergency Measures Ontario did not consider the sewage an emergency and therefore would not support the evacuation of the families. The Chief and Council then took matters into their own hands and evacuated members at their own expense.”It is shameful that our community members have no other way to have their voices heard than to stand along a highway, but the federal and provincial governments have turned a deaf ear on us in our time of need,” said Attawapiskat First Nation Chief Theresa Hall.

In a 1992 agreement between the federal and provincial governments, both levels of governments have agreed that the chief and council have the authority to declare a state of emergency. But in this latest crisis, Canada and Ontario have both turned their backs on Attawapiskat First Nation.

“There is a tentative date for the 90 evacuees to return home on Friday August 14, 2009,” said Deputy Chief Theresa Spence. “Much work is being done in the community before the people return home. Our staff is working hard to ensure that the homes are safe and that appropriate temporary accommodations are available by August 14.”

Greg Shisheesh, one of the community liaison officers, said there is growing concern about the health and well-being of the people that have been evacuated to Cochrane.

“With the H1N1 pandemic we are very concerned that there may be a serious outbreak soon,” said Shisheesh. “Each member that has been evacuated to Cochrane needs to have a health assessment done prior to returning home to the community. The Porcupine Health Unit has agreed to carry out a health assessment on Thursday, August 13, 2009.”

There is growing unrest with the leadership and community members due to the current and historic grievances that the community has filed with the governments, but still no action is seen. The leadership has expressed a desire to meet with both levels of government as well as De Beers Canada on the following points:

1. Attawapiskat First Nation deserves a safe community. The infrastructure of the community needs to be assessed and remediated, the condition and serious lack of housing in the community needs to be resolved.

2. Attawapiskat First Nation deserves the same standard of education as any citizen in Canada. The community has been without a proper elementary school for the past 10 years.

3. Attawapiskat desires to be out of the state of poverty that it currently is in. The wealth of the De Beers Victor mine is not reaching the community.

The leadership of Attawapiskat First Nation demands that the Indian and Northern Affairs Canada, Health Canada and the provincial government and De Beers Canada meet with the community immediately to begin addressing the above points.

Grand Chief Stan Louttit is imploring both levels of government and De Beers Canada to work with the First Nation in addressing important community issues.

“A peoples can only take so much: why is it that we have to resort to some form of civil disobedience to have our voice heard?” he said.

A protest will be held in Timmins on Friday August 14, 2009. It will commence at 10 a.m. at Hollinger Park with protestors marching to the De Beers office on Pine Street in downtown Timmins. This is the third protest of the week, which saw peaceful demonstrations in Cochrane, Ontario on Aug. 10, 2009 and in Chapleau, Ontario on Aug. 11, 2009. More demonstrations are planned for Thunder Bay, Toronto and Ottawa next week.

Attawapiskat First Nation is a remote community on the west coast of James Bay with a population of 1,800 on reserve and a total population of 2,300 and is approximately 700 kilometres north of Timmins, Ontario.

For further information: Chief Theresa Hall, Attawapiskat First Nation, (705) 997-2166, (705) 365-8507 cell; Deputy Chief Theresa Spence, Attawapiskat First Nation, (807) 629-6704 cell; Grand Chief Stan Louttit, Mushkegowuk Council, (705) 288-0157 cell

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