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Aboriginal Housing Crises

Today, our project Game Changer is going back to look at First Nation communities and to ask why wasn't each a Game Changer for itself and for the next community? Today, we bring you voices from communities still struggling with housing, from one community that's overcome most challenges and from two big thinkers on this issues, each with Aboriginal ancestry but with differing views on how to proceed.

Part One of The Current


It's Monday, December 5th.

Documents show that the air force warned there could be backlash if the public found out Defence Minister Peter Mackay had a government chopper to pick him up from a fishing trip.

Currently, just wait till they find out he commissioned a Navy frigate to take him to his favourite fishin' hole.

This is The Current.

Aboriginal Housing Crises - Simeon Tshakapesh

Today, Attawapiskat's Chief Theresa Spence is scheduled to have meetings in Ottawa to meet with other native leaders and government officials to come up with a survival plan for her community. Back home, Red Cross workers have been able to provide some relief for people living in tents, shacks and trailers as the northern ontario winter closes in.

Meanwhile, political and aboriginal leaders are publicly weighing in on the future of the tiny First Nations community - and what needs to be done to solve its crisis. If it all seems like deja vu to you ... you're forgiven. Because the type of crisis we're seeing in Attawapiskat, we've seen before.

We aired some with the screams of Davis Inlet children, they were heard around the world. Images of the children, high on gasoline fumes, were seen internationally and shocked many Canadians. And that's not the only thing that shocked them. Most people had no idea there were people in Labrador living in shacks without indoor plumbing in the 1990s. And as with Attawapaskat today, the media descended to shed light on a heartbreaking story.

As part of our project Game Changer, this morning we're looking at aboriginal communities that were - like Attawapiskat is now - in crisis. And we're asking whether that crisis changed the game for them - and set them on a new, better path forward. The people of Davis Inlet moved to a new home, Natuashish. It featured new houses, new schools, and it was hoped -- a new life.

Simeon Tshakapesh lived through the bad days in Davis Inlet. He was a police officer and dealt with the gas sniffing at the time. He's now the chief in the new community of Natuashish, which is where we reached him this morning.

Aboriginal Housing Crises - Pam Palmater / Joseph Quesnel

Housing problems are not limited to the northern communities. In 2008, we heard stories of mouldy houses making people sick on the Tsalquate (tsull-KWAT-ee) reserve near Port Hardy on Vancouver Island. Residents said poor living conditions from mould caused child welfare officials to take some of their children away. We spoke to chief Paddy Walkus at that time and aired a clip.

That plea for help put the community into the national spotlight. We went back to the community to see if anything has changed in the last three years. That's where we met housing coordinator Lorna Henderson on a construction site.

Community members certainly are getting more experience with both getting rid of mould and building new homes. But did the national attention lead to any meaningful change? Band members disagree on whether it was a game changing moment. We heard Lorna Hendersonm, Housing Co-ordinator for the Gwa'sala-'Nakwaxda'xw First Nation on the Tsalquate reserve near Port Hardy on Northern Vancouver Island and Acting Band Manager Les Taylor. They disagree over the extent to which the community's housing crisis has been solved. On a national level, the answer is a little more clear: There is a problem. And residents, politicians and the general public are frustrated that it keeps rearing its head in communities across the country.

With their ideas on how to truly change the game, we were joined by two people. Pam Palmater is the head of the Centre of Indigenous Governance at Ryerson University and former legal counsel for Justice Canada and former director at Indian Affairs. She was in Toronto. And Joseph Quesnel, is a policy analyst who writes about aboriginal affairs for the Frontier Centre for Public Policy, an independent Winnipeg-based think tank. He was in Lethbridge.

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