Attawapiskat reserve to get Red Cross aid

The Canadian Red Cross has announced it's sending aid to the stricken northern Ontario Attawapiskat reserve, which has declared a state of emergency and is facing an extreme housing shortage.
The federal minister of aboriginal affairs said his officials will visit the struggling reserve community of Attawapiskat next week. (Allison Dempster/CBC)

The Canadian Red Cross said Saturday it would send aid to the stricken northern Ontario community of Attawapiskat, which has declared a state of emergency and is facing an extreme housing shortage.

"We have been working closely with public officials and [Attawapiskat] Chief Theresa Spence to assess needs, determine the best course of action and how the Red Cross may be able to provide support," said John Saunders, provincial director of disaster management for the organization.

Saunders said the Red Cross has determined some of those needs include generators, heaters, insulated sleeping mats, blankets and winter clothing.

The Red Cross will also provide donation management assistance because "the community has been inundated with offers of assistance," Saunders added.

Many residents in Attawapiskat, a Cree community of 2,000 near James Bay, have been living in makeshift tents and shacks that lack heat, electricity and plumbing.

Chief Spence has said the area needs another 250 homes.

Last week, the Department of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development said talks were ongoing with the Attawapiskat First Nation regarding housing aid.

The government has already committed $500,000 to the community for renovations to five vacant homes. 

On Friday, Chief Spence said the department had committed another $2 million but Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Duncan later said no decision had yet been made.

He said officials would travel to the area this week to ensure that recent aid is being used effectively.

Duncan said the community has a litany of problems.

"I'm saying we'll send our people in to make some, help make some, decisions with the chief and council," Duncan said Friday. "They have their challenges and this is why they have been in co-management for some time.

Aboriginal affairs spokeswoman Geneviève Guibert told CBC News on Thursday another 44 homes have been completed as a result of money from Canada's Economic Action Plan.

Earlier this year, the Mushkegowuk tribal council, of which Attawapiskat is a part, declared a state of emergency for the reserve and two others, Kashechewan and Fort Albany.