Monday, April 11, 2016

Why Canadians Need to Rush to the Rescue of Attawapiskat

Attawapiskat, the small First Nation's community on the edge of James Bay, is a place well known to many Canadians.

And sadly for all the wrong reasons.

Five years ago it had to declare a state of emergency to deal with a severe housing crisis.

Now it has had to declare another one, and the reason couldn't be more tragic.

For this isn't just a crisis, it's a human catastrophe. 

The chief and council for the Attawapiskat First Nation on remote James Bay have declared a state of emergency, saying they're overwhelmed by the number of attempted suicides in the community. On Saturday night alone, 11 people attempted to take their own lives, Chief Bruce Shisheesh said.

Including Saturday's spate of suicide attempts, a total of 101 people of all ages have tried to kill themselves since September, Shisheesh said, with one person dying. The youngest was 11, the oldest 71. 

The four health workers in that community of about 2,000 people are overwhelmed.

"These four workers, crisis workers, are burned out. They can't continue working daily because of the amount of suicides [that] have happened. They're backlogged," said the council's Deputy Grand Chief Rebecca Friday. 

 "There are no services at the moment, no counsellors in the community."

So the federal and Ontario governments must organize an emergency operation and rush to the rescue of Attawapiskat and its suffering people.

The military should be called upon to build shelters, so all kinds of emergency workers can be rushed in. We need to send in doctors, and nurses, and counsellors.

Because as Charlie Angus points out, like other northern communities, Attawpiskat doesn't have the resources to deal with such a crisis.

"When a young person tries to commit suicide in any suburban school, they send in the resources, they send in the emergency team. There's a standard protocol for response. The northern communities are left on their own," he said. "We don't have the mental health service dollars. We don't have the resources."

But we also need First Nation healers, we need drummers, we need native rap artists, or whatever.

We need to cheer up that sad little community, like it tried to keep the spirit of Christmas alive four years ago. 

By dressing up the children as best they could...

And having a local Santa throw presents from the top of a church onto the snow below...

Which was a happy scene of fun and laughter, in a sad and suffering place, I don't think I'll ever forget.

But now of course it's a matter of life and death. And what we can't do is nothing, or just more of the same. 

For that wouldn't just be tragic, it would be shameful.

Attawapiskat has suffered enough.

And that's not my Canada...

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  1. e.a.f.5:28 AM

    when they rush in counsellors to schools where there are suicides or deaths of students or teachers, we are talking about schools in the south and we are talking about schools which in B.C. are pretty middle class and in most cases of European descent.

    Crisis in First nations's communities are simply over looked. In the view of politicians, they aren't important enough. You see although a lot of people have tried to kill themselves, the town has only 2000 people, so in the eyes of politicians there really isn't a gain.

    Five years ago the community was in crisis. The Cons decided to place it in 3rd party trusteeship. The band took it to court and won. the effect of that was for the then Minister, John Duncan, to not sign the paper work for 16 new homes. The town continued to suffer. We have a new federal government. we know have to see if Trudeau will live up to his promises.

    part of the housing issue has always been southern style homes for the north and that doesn't work. then the federal government does not allocate sufficient fund to maintain the homes. Maintaining homes in the north is difficult and expensive.

    The federal government wanted First Nations people to stop living on the land. they created this problem and then walked away and blamed the First nations people.

    It is time to do something, but my guess is, there will be very little help and the news cycle dictates this will be old news in a week or so. There won't be a major news outlet that will continue covering it in depth for any length of time.

    Governments need to understand the fastest growing group of young people in this country is First Nations. If they lack health care, education, shelter, an adequate diet, we will pay and when you pay later its always so much more expensive. Unless of course governments expect a drop in population due to suicide.

    Many will say it costs to much to deal with the problems. Well if we start closing tax loop holes, who knows how much money we would gain. it could be used for social issues.

    Wanting to kill one's self is an act of desperation and despair. given the living conditions in the town, I understand why people would want to die. Canada needs to do something. If we can spend money on military exercises in other parts of the world, we have money for our own citizens.

  2. Add up how many millions of dollars of federal funds have gone to Attawapiskat just in the last 10 years to serve a population of 2000 people:

  3. Federal funding:

  4. Anonymous12:17 PM

    It's time to fly them all down south into the cities to integrate. They're on a permanent camping trip courtesy of the taxpayers, and they obviously can't take care of themselves. Those who want to stay there and live their traditional ways (hunting, fishing, gathering, building their own shelters) can do so. The rest should leave as there is no future. It's sad, but their quality of life would surely improve down south.

  5. I sometimes think we need to move Attawapiskat due south, at least until we hit Hwy 11 or, better yet, Hwy 17 the way Newfoundland closed down a lot of the outports.

    On the other hand, it should not be difficult to improve housing. I have been reading about shipping container housing and, subject to proper insulation for Canadian winters, one could load up a container ship with a few hundred (thousand?) containers, drop them off at Attawapiskat and outfit them quickly. Et voilà a lot of new housing and all with a rigid structure that helps avoid some of the design problems that e.a.f. correctly points out. Err, e.a.f, am I correct in assuming Attawapiskat is on permafrost?

    My impression is that you would need some skilled welders and general craftspeople that the people of Attawapiskat should be able to supply quickly. There is bound to be people there with the skills already so one would just have to expand the numbers a bit.

    A standard long container appears to be 40 feet long by 8 foot wide by 8.5 foot high and from what I have seen on the Net it is fairly easy to weld them together or stack them to expand a residence. So you could start off with a minimum 320 sq foot building (probably 280-300 sq useable) and mix and match to suit people's needs.

    The village would still be facing poor economic prospects, bad water and the threat of floods but the last two problems could probably be addressed by just relocating the village to higher ground with a better water source. Note that I have never been closer to Attawapiskat than Moosonee so I am speaking with an excellent level of ignorance.

    For the Doubting Thomas types re container housing , note that the equivalent to a 40ft shipping container in a good location in Manhattan is renting for somewhere between $US 2.6 & $US 3.1 K per month. However, the ceilings in New York are 10 foot as opposed to 8.5 foot in a container. If you watch the video, the units under construction look an awful lot like a container.

    Example of an existing settlement in the Netherlands.

  6. e.a.f.2:47 PM

    perma frost is part of the problem, but so are the extreme winter temps.

    Container housing is great. It works, its cheap and cheerful. There are some amazing buildings around the world done with container housing. JUST SO not all think its "cheap" and not mainstream. There is one in Australia, it cost almost a million to build. O.K. its the finishes. There is another which is an apartment building in Europe.

    Anyone reading Tiny House blogs will see how small houses can be built to adapt to the northern climate. There are a number in Alaska.

    However all the recommendations by jrkrideau, cuts out those who would want to have a piece of the action. What we see in places like A. is houses built in the south and trucked north. There are a lot of people in the chain who all make money out of it. Had the government spent the money 50 years ago and build log houses in some areas, they'd still be standing.

    With so much technology, solar and wind energy could be used, but then contributors to major political parties might not have gotten contracts. In todays Tiny and Small homes, many don't use regular toilets, they use composting toilets. Some of the new ones are good for 6 months before emptying.

    Housing in the north has never been centred around the end user, but around what some one is the south thought would work.

    No one needs to be homeless or having 13 people living in a small house with all the alternates there are today. Having people participate in building their own homes works, just ask Habitat for Humanity.

    If a group of Habitate for hHumanity and small/tiny housing people went to A. to help and teach how to build after consulting with the residents, I'm sure they'd come up with a solution. right now the method of just shipping up houses from the south, isn't an answer.

    Part of the problem in this town is people not only don't have jobs, they have nothing to do, they are emotionally removed from their enviornmetn and heritage.

    Moving people south may not be the answer. It is not up to us in the south to make these decisions. First Nations people lived in the north for thousands of years and they did well. then the Europeans showed up and decided we knew better. ITS TIME TO RETURN TO THE TRADITIONAL WAY OF LIFE.

    Even if people are moved south there is no guarantee they will find work. For those who suggest it, have a look at stats on unemployment and people of colour. Racism is still alive and well. Just check out Winnipeg, where some housing ads clearly state, no natives.

    assimilating isn't going to work, some people don't want to assimilate. the first thing others see is their colour and race. the rest of Canada needs to learn and respect the qualities of First Nations heritage and not try once againt to turn First Nations people into some one they aren't.

  7. Simon, there is a similar crisis in the Inuit community of Kuujjuaq in Arctic Québec. Radio-Canada has reported an upsurge in youth suicides in that village - 5 recently. One of these young people was a talented young actor, Lukasi Forrest. There have been many suicide attempts and reports there as well.

  8. Anonymous6:28 PM

    I would have thought Trudeau's election promise to attack mental health issues would have solved this problem....... Too bad there was nothing in his budget!!!!!!! Time for this current government to walk the walk!!!!!! I know my local MP told me to go to my local charity for mental health issues. No money for mental health....... Just lip service!!!!!!! Voted for change...... Got the same!!!!!! FP

  9. @ e.a.f

    I think the rigid container shape sees to deal, at least somewhat, with the permafrost problem. I thought that insulation was a major problem. Any idea how difficult the insulation issue is? I mean it's cold up there but we're not talking Baffin Island temps are we?

    However all the recommendations by jrkrideau, cuts out those who would want to have a piece of the action.

    Well I did say the residents would actually do the refitting etc. :) I agree with you, in principle, but basically I was thinking about the fastest likely way to pull off some decent housing at a cost the Canadian Gov't could afford. I like the Habitat for Humanity idea but we're talking a fairly long lead time are we not. It also seemed to me that a major problem in Attawapiskat and other isolated communities was the lack of construction materials. The only Habitat for Humanity sites I am aware of have been in urban areas. Working in a place that is essentially fly-in most of the year is quite another kettle of fish.

    That was another reason for suggesting containers. One container-ship load and you're done. Heck, stuff the containers full of fittings, finishings, and equipment et voilà. You have just taken 500 trucks off the ice road---assuming we get ice roads for any reasonable amount of time what with climate change breathing down our necks.

    Thanks for mentioning things like composting toilets. I was thinking about such things as well as the usual plumbing supplies but was afraid I was rambling on already.

    I was not thinking of solar/wind but that makes a huge amount of sense. Do you know enough about the local landscape to know if micro-hydro is possible?


    Not going to happen. We (European settlers/Southerners) have messed things up and changed things too much. I don't think I know of anyone who really wants to permanently return to living in the bush and not having TV. It's like asking me to move back to Ireland and live in a hut subsisting on potatoes and skim milk. Well, I assume that's what my Irish forebears did: Most Irish peasants lived that way.

    Besides, after the residential schools pogrom, the cultural and survival skills are not there.

  10. e.a.f.5:29 PM

    I ought to have been more clear on "traditional way of life", it would have been more accurate to suggest this centuries verision of it. I for one would have no great desire to return to the Netherlands and live on fish, live in swampy areas, before they built dykes, and drink a lot of gin and grow tulips.

    Cultural and survival skills can be taught. it will give young people a sense of accomplishment and be able to feed themselves and know they came from a sophisticated society, which lived in a harsh environment which Europeans simply couldn't. First Nation's languages ought to be taught in all First nations schools. In southern schools we get to learn things like carpentry and mechnics. In the North they could add hunting, fishing, living on the land, and games and sports of the North.

    The cost of food in the North is huge. Being able to hunt and fish enables people to adequately feed themselves.

    Habitat for Humanity does usually have a long lead time, but most of that is because of fund raising and getting volunteers. If funding isn't a problem and you hire trades teachers, much can be accomplished in a short period of time, its practical experience.

    When people work on building their own homes they develop skills to help maintain them, have a sense of accomplishment, etc.

    We have the summer coming up. Building can be accomplished during this time. the ice roads, well they're pretty much gone. Containers are great because the insolation would be easy to install and there are so many new forms of insolation. the spray foam doesn't allow mildew or mould, a major problem in traditional southern builds. there is panel insolations which also forms walls. I don't know how it does in the north, but that foam stuff works anywhere.

    Part of the problem in the north is the cost of heating a home. whatever homes are provided, their heating has to be in tune with the economic factors of the north. solar and wind might be a way to go. Diesel and gas genarators are a very expensive method of producing electricity.

    Houses build on traditional southern foundations are going to fail. as the land freezes and unfreezes it heaves and the houses are not meant to deal with that. Better to build homes on platforms, on stilts which are into the bedrock. Yes, it expensive but so is replacing homes and people dying because they have inadequate housing. Try living with 13 other people in a 3 bedroom house with one bathroom which doesn't work so well. Now try a house for each family with generates it own electricity, with people trained to maintain it and the latest off grid toilets. (just look on any tiny house blog)

    In Comox Valley, Vancouver Island, B.C. a community of politicians who didn't seem motivated to deal with homelessness, the local Rotaries and Habitat for Humanity did it, provide housing for the homeless. The Rotaries acquiring, in good condition travel trailers. These were then brought up to code by Habit for Humanity volunteers, placed in a private camp ground which rents them out to homeless people for what they receive from the provincial government for housing, $350 per month. it can be done a very short time. Now this isn't going to work in the North, but it does demonstrate what can be done by Habitat for Humanity, in pretty quick order.