Community needs help, not blame

How do you know a disaster when you see one? Well, a pretty good sign is that the Red Cross is on the scene handing out food, blankets, and clothing as well as providing first aid.
This past week, the Red Cross was in the Attawapiskat First Nation, which was much-appreciated by the residents suffering through an early winter without adequate shelter and running water.
The question is why are people in Canada are living in Third World conditions and relying on the Red Cross for disaster assistance while our federal government is AWOL?
Now, I’m not a cynical person but if I was, then I would speculate that the lack of votes in this region and community probably is the main reason why there are no representatives of the Conservative government on or near the Attawapiskat First Nation to assess the situation.
Since I am not a cynical person, though, I am going to say that this is likely not the case. Rather, it seems the federal government is failing First Nations at the public policy level by simply throwing money at individual problems without having a plan to help alleviate poverty and despair in Canada’s most isolated and vulnerable First Nation communities.
There is no doubt the current disaster in Attawapiskat is a result of negligence on the part of the federal government. As of writing this, 122 families were living in condemned housing and 96 people were living in a large portable trailer.
Many of the “homes” are without clean water, basic sanitation, or contained sources of heat. As is the case in many poor communities in Canada, housing investment has not kept up with population growth and many children now are sleeping on floors in Attawapiskat’s condemned homes, or on the ground in tents.
To make matters worse, winter came early in Attawapiskat, where temperatures already have dipped to minus-30 degrees C and there is two feet of snow on the ground.
Upon visiting the site last week, the Red Cross quickly determined the community met the definition of a “disaster area” by their standards.
The humanitarian crisis in Attawapiskat has become such a big story in the national and international media that the Harper Conservatives finally were forced to act. Unfortunately, the first thing that Stephen Harper did was not to offer assistance, but to try to blame others for the problem.
Rather than saying help is on they way, Harper tried to blame the leadership in the community by claiming that there shouldn’t be a crisis in the community because it had received $92 million in federal money since 2006.
So why is there a housing crisis after then? In short, families and children are still homeless in Attawapiskat because Stephen Harper simply wrote the community a cheque and tried to walk away from the problem.
No one from the federal government bothered to see if the money was enough to build the homes and schools, or meet the water and sanitation needs of the community.
While dishing out the blame and placing the community under “third-party management,” whatever kind of political double-speak that is, Harper still has offered no concrete assistance in response to this made-in-Canada disaster.
The end result? As of Thursday (Dec. 2), up to 2,000 Canadians continue to live in Third World conditions, the Red Cross is on the ground helping homeless children stay warm, and the Harper Conservative government continues to offer nothing while blaming others for their own mismanagement.
I can assure you this never would have happened under a New Democrat government.
For those who are interested and able to help, financial donations may be made online at www.redcross.ca, by calling 1-800-418-1111, or through your local Canadian Red Cross office.
Cheques should be made payable to the Canadian Red Cross, earmarked “Attawapiskat,” which can be mailed to the Canadian Red Cross, Ontario Zone, 5700 Cancross Court, Mississauga, Ont., L5R 3E9.

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