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Federal government working 'as fast as it can' to transfer new land to Attawapiskat

The chief of Attawapiskat estimates his community needs more than 100 new homes to alleviate overcrowding by 2021. But before building can start, the federal government has to approve an application that would give the First Nation more land.

Attawapiskat offered 1,194 additional hectares of new land on higher ground

Some homes in Attawapiskat house more than a dozen people, Chief Bruce Shisheesh said. (Nathan Denette/Canadian Press)

The chief of Attawapiskat estimates his community needs more than 100 new homes to alleviate overcrowding by 2021. But before building can start, the federal government has to approve an application that would give the First Nation more land. 

"We are over 2,000 people living on less than one square mile of land that gets flooded now almost every year," Chief Bruce Shisheesh said.

The Ontario government has offered the James Bay reserve approximately 1,194 additional hectares on higher ground. 

The First Nation has indicated this land would meet its needs and has asked the province to work on transferring the lands to the federal government, after which Canada would transfer the lands to the community through its Additions To Reserve process.

Chief Bruce Shisheesh, left, Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs Carolyn Bennett, centre, and Timmins-James Bay MP Charlie Angus, right, met in Attawapiskat in April after the community declared a state of emergency over a rash of suicide attempts, which have been partly blamed on overcrowding. (Nathan Denette/Canadian Press)

But that could take a while to complete.

"The lengthy process for Additions to Reserves has been a real irritant for a lot of First Nations because that could be their economic development," Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs Carolyn Bennett said.

Prioritizing land transfer a sign of 'respect and recognition'

"We are taking this very seriously," Bennett continued.

"People shouldn't have to wait a decade in order to be able to move their communities forward."

Bennett said the federal government is working as fast as it can to approve the application, which is encouraging news for Shisheesh. 

"Finally, we talk about process, respect and recognition," he said. 

Shisheesh said there are people in his community who are currently living in houses with more than a dozen people.

With files from the CBC's Susana Mas