Cat Lake First Nation declares state of emergency over illness, death from 'profoundly poor' housing

The leadership of Cat Lake First Nation has declared a state of emergency over what they're calling "profoundly poor conditions of housing," in the remote community that they say has led to "needless illnesses and related deaths."

First Nation calls for 'prompt and sustained action' by senior governments to deal with housing

Cat Lake First Nation has declared a state of emergency over sub-standard housing and related health issues. (http://firstnation.ca)

The leadership of Cat Lake First Nation has declared a state of emergency over what they're calling "profoundly poor conditions of housing," in the remote community that they say has led to "needless illnesses and related deaths."

The community, located about 600 kilometres north of Thunder Bay, is demanding immediate action from Ottawa and Queen's Park to address the issues, saying that "jurisdictional squabbling" is why the First Nation suffers from inequitable access to health care and why solutions aren't being developed to a litany of problems with on-reserve housing.

In Thursday's declaration, the community said an independent housing report highlighted several serious issues, including:

  • Excessive mould
  • Structural and foundation issues
  • Dangerous electrical conditions, including bare wires, improper installations and unmaintained switches and plugs
  • Roofing issues, causing leaking
  • Invasive bacterial disease, including lung infections.

The statement added that "excessive" medevacs are required to deal with those lung problems and that building assessments called for the demolition of 87 houses.

"Health Canada and [Indigenous Services Canada] have failed to adequately respond to the repeated calls for urgent meetings and meaningful discussion with chief and council and advisors in order to rectify the situation," the declaration said.

"The Cat Lake First Nation people experience conditions at a level that would be intolerable to the mainstream population of Ontario."

An order from Chief Matthew Keewaykapow and council demanded that federal and provincial governments take several immediate steps, including:

  • Meet with leadership to develop safe, clean and healthy housing built to proper standards and negotiate increased funding for housing
  • Establishing plans and timelines for the provision of services, including bolstering the nursing station's capacity to treat mould-related illness and other "essential" services
  • Supply temporary housing over the winter roads
  • Provide education and training for community members to maintain "upgraded" housing
  • Overhaul how housing needs are assessed on-reserve, putting emphasis on "actual need" over dollars

"Cat Lake First Nation leadership recognizes that there are processes in place to address various emergencies, however the urgency of this dangerously critical situation calls for an immediate [and] stronger response and acceptable commitment," the community's declaration said.

"Cat Lake looks forward to forming a new and better relationship with federal and provincial governments to prevent further harm or damage to the safety, health and wellbeing of Cat Lake First Nation people."