It has been exactly one month since Chief Theresa Spence of Attawapiskat First Nation in northern Ontario declared a state of emergency in her community, and federal and provincial authorities are now arriving to take a closer look.
Spence first informed the outside world that living conditions in Attawapiskat had reached a crisis situation on October 28, and today marked the first arrival of government officials in the community since that time. Representatives of the federal department of Aboriginal Affairs have been sent to take stock of the situation; the province of Ontario also sent a team to the reserve, though Kathleen Wynne, the provincial minister for aboriginal affairs, says that it will be reporting to the federal investigators.
The Red Cross of Canada announced today that it, too, will be sending a team to Attawapiskat tomorrow, bringing emergency supplies and funding from donations raised since the aid agency announced its intentions last week. Red Cross spokesman John Saunders will be joining the team to assess what is most needed, with a focus on generators, heaters, insulated blankets and clothing.
Spence's declaration last month was prompted by what she called "Third World" living conditions on the reserve, where residents have been facing a winter without adequate shelter, many in tents or shacks lacking heat, plumbing or electricity. The chief had even asked that provincial or federal authorities evacuate her remote community from their homes.
The initial response from both levels of government was limited. Even now, with teams arriving in the community, it remains unclear what action will be taken. A statement from the federal department of Aboriginal Affairs specified that the team sent today is simply on a fact-finding mission.
"Since coming to government, we have invested significant funding to the Attawapiskat First Nation. Officials from the Department of Aboriginal Affairs are in the community [Monday] to investigate why conditions are as poor as they are, given the significant funding for housing, infrastructure, education, and administration."
NDP MP Charlie Angus, who has been working to raise awareness of the situation in Attawapiskat in recent weeks, will also be visiting tomorrow, along with federal NDP leader Nycole Turmel.
"We want to make sure the federal government gets serious about helping this community," he said.