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Pikangikum First Nation documents decades-long quest for government help

Pikangikum First Nation presented the Minister of Indigenous Affairs with a thick booklet of letters to six previous ministers this month in hopes of finally getting help with water, housing and social services in the northern Ontario community.

Dozens of letters sent to federal ministers result in little change in remote reserve

One of dozens of letters chief and council in Pikangikum have written to federal officials seeking help with housing, fire/rescue, education and youth services. The letters were collected in a booklet and presented to Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett. (Jody Porter/CBC)

Pikangikum First Nation presented the Minister of Indigenous Affairs with a thick booklet of letters to six previous ministers this month in hopes of finally getting help with water, housing and social services in the northern Ontario community.

Carolyn Bennett visited Pikangikum on April 15 as part of a tour of troubled northern Ontario First Nations.

Nine people from one family died in a house fire in Pikangikum in March, including three young children under five years old.

"It's a documented history of Pikangikum's efforts to reach out for help with their infrastructure needs," said Gerry McKay, the head of the Independent First Nations Alliance, which includes Pikangikum.

"It's a series of letters explaining the First Nations efforts to get help," he said.

Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett tries out one of the communal water stations during a visit to Pikangikum First Nation on April 15, 2016, where she was told 80 per cent of homes do not have running water. (Sol Mamakwa/Twitter)
Among the documents is the death announcement for two other toddlers who died in a house fire in 2009.

"Indian and Northern Affairs has been aware of the fundamental infrastructure problems in Pikangkum for several years," then-chief Peter Quill wrote to then-Minister Chuck Strahl in 2009.

"These problems continue to jeopardize the health and well being of the community," the letter goes on."The time for interim steps, half measures, feasibility studies and capital plans has come and gone."

In 2011, Pikangikum declared a state of emergency because "for several days there has been no supply of potable water or running water in any form," according to one of the documents.

Most homes in Pikangikum still do not have safe tap water.

A 2012 document signed by then-chief Peter Quill and then-Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Duncan confirms that "the design and construction of the [kindergarten to Grade 12] school shall commence forewith".

Four years later the school has yet to open.

The documents date back more than a decade to a 2005 presentation to the Minister of State for Northern Development that outlines critical concerns with water and sewage, the overcrowded school and the inadequate electricity system.

None of the concerns have been fully addressed.

McKay said when Minister Bennett was told she was the seventh minister to visit Pikangikum, she said that seven is "a lucky number."

There's no word yet on how Indigenous Affairs is responding to Pikangikum's latest requests for help with fire equipment, water, housing and services for youth.

Documents obtained by CBC News reveal that the Department of Indigenous Affairs own numbers show funding levels for First Nations have dropped about 30 per cent relative to inflation and population growth over the past 30 years. 6:16

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