Indigenous Services minister will meet with Cat Lake chief to discuss housing crisis
Seamus O'Regan, Matthew Keewaykapow and AFN National Chief Perry Bellegarde will meet in Thunder Bay
The federal Minister of Indigenous Services Canada (ISC), Seamus O'Regan announced Friday he is planning to visit Cat Lake to witness the housing conditions in the northwestern Ontario First Nation, but will first meet with the chief of the community, Matthew Keewaykapow, in Thunder Bay.
Leadership in the community 600 kilometres north of Thunder Bay declared a state of emergency in January.
A statement from leadership officials at that time said the "profoundly poor conditions of housing," in the remote community has led to "needless illnesses and related deaths." Those conditions include mould, leaking roofs and other structural problems.
- Cat Lake First Nation declares state of emergency over illness, death from 'profoundly poor' housing
Finding alternate accommodations for some families
O'Regan told CBC News on Friday that he is "completely focused on what we can do in the short term and what we can do in the long term, and I'm very serious about making sure we take our direction from the community."
He said the government is starting repairs "right away" on a number of items a joint task force, which includes Indigenous leaders and ISC officials, has recommended, including "mould remediation, weather stripping, door and drywall repair and in some places we have some replacement to do there. We're working with the task force to determine the priorities both in the short term and the long term on what needs to be replaced, what needs to be repaired and we're trying to figure out solutions for families that need some alternate accommodations as well."
A written release Friday stated that during the meeting Thursday, Indigenous Services Canada agreed to:
- Expedite delivery of materials required to complete the seven-unit housing complex funded in 2017, for other repairs and for new construction.
- Provide funding for a professional project manager and financial advisor with the support of Windigo Tribal Council.
- Immediately begin repairs on priority units as identified by the task force – including but not limited to mould remediation, weatherstripping, and door and drywall repair or replacement.
- Confirm with the task force the priority units for replacement and solutions for families that require alternate accommodation.
- Ensure that the winter road is maintained regularly and monitored to maintain access to the remote community for people and materials as long as possible this season.
The ministry also operates a nursing station in the community and therefore has agreed to:
- Support and action an independent community medical assessment of identified health issues like rashes and respiratory illness, pending the Chief and Council confirming with ISC their desire to proceed with this option.
- Increase the community's nursing staff to assist with any additional health-related concerns.
- Expedite the ongoing repairs to the Cat Lake nursing station which should be complete by March 31.
O'Regan said the exact dates for the meetings in Thunder Bay, which will be facilitated by Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde, and his visit to Cat Lake have yet to be confirmed.