Attawapiskat Reserve: Canadian Red Cross Pledges To Help With Aid For Community In State Of Emergency

Attawapiskat Reserve Charlie Angus Emergency

The Huffington Post Canada   First Posted: 11/26/11 03:19 PM ET Updated: 11/26/11 05:02 PM ET

The Canadian Red Cross will help bring aid to the Attawapiskat reserve in Northern Ontario where a state of emergency has been declared due to deplorable living conditions.

NDP MP Charlie Angus described a "fourth world" community lacking in basic sanitation or proper water and with families crammed into makeshift tents — with no one coming to their aid.

“We have been working closely with public officials and Chief Theresa Spence to assess needs, determine the best course of action and how the Red Cross may be able to provide support,” John Saunders, provincial director of disaster management for the Canadian Red Cross in Ontario, said in a release.

The Red Cross will be managing donation support for the community as well as providing such necessities as generators, heaters, insulated sleeping mats, blankets and winter clothing.

Donations can be made on the Canadian Red Cross website.

As public outrage grew, pressure piled on the federal government to step in and help those in Attawapiskat. Officials from Aboriginal Affairs say they will be visiting early next week.

Angus, whose blog post on Huffington Post Canada brought the issue to the fore, says the government's slow response is coming much later than it should have.

"Red Cross will help address many of the short-term problems facing the community, however, this disaster wasn’t an accident of nature. It was the direct result of the failure of the federal and provincial government to work with the community," said a release from Angus and Ontario NDP MPP Gilles Bisson. "This problem remains."

"We remain deeply concerned about the lack of movement by both levels of government."

Several online petitions have been created calling on the government to take action in Attawapiskat, including one with thousands of signatures.

Angus will visit the community again early next week with interim NDP leader Nycole Turmel.


(Warning: Graphic images)

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  • A child with a facial rash from lack of clean water and sanitation.

  • Many children are scalded and burned from living in densely overcrowded houses with makeshift wood stoves.

  • Inside a makeshift tent -- home to a family of six.

  • A young mother stands in front of the tent she has shared with her husband and four children for two years.

The full statement from MP Charlie Angus and MPP Gilles Bisson:

As elected officials for the James Bay region, we welcome the involvement of Red Cross in addressing the state of emergency in Attawapiskat First Nation. Red Cross announced the news this morning in a release by John Saunders, director of Provincial disaster management for the Red Cross. The move comes four weeks into a crisis that has garnered international outrage.

We are pleased that Red Cross has recognized the seriousness of the crisis facing families in Attawapiskat. We welcome their willingness to help co-ordinate emergency aid. The decision to step in comes as Chief Spence warns of worsening conditions for families living in makeshift sheds and tents without electricity or running water.

Red Cross will help address many of the short-term problems facing the community, however, this disaster wasn’t an accident of nature. It was the direct result of the failure of the federal and provincial government to work with the community. This problem remains.

We remain deeply concerned about the lack of movement by both levels of government. It is essential that the federal government ensure there is appropriate funding to address the huge backlog in housing. We want them to work in a proactive and positive way with the community to find long-term solutions.

The provincial government must commit to sending in Emergency Measures Ontario to help assess the needs on the ground. As well, the Province must ensure that families and individuals living in makeshift housing have access to medical and social support.

This fight is far from over. In the coming weeks, we will continue to push both federal and provincial governments to follow through on their obligations to help Attawapiskat.

Attawapiskat isn't alone. All across Canada’s north, First Nation communities are facing chronic under-funding in basic services – education, health, and infrastructure. This crisis must be a wake up call to federal and provincial officials to finally get serious about ensuring that First Nation families are able to live lives of dignity and hope.

This crisis has also been a wake up call for average Canadians. People do care.

Our office has been inundated with people contacting us from across North America wanting to help. We are asking people to shift their fundraising efforts to the Red Cross Attawapiskat disaster relief program that has been initiated.

The Red Cross will accept financial donations that will be then be used to purchase emergency help such as bedding, generators, heaters, winter clothing and support for clean water. We will have a team on the ground in Timmins to help assist in ensuring that the supplies are shipped into the community.

Financial donations may be made online at www.redcross.ca, by calling 1-800-418-1111 or through your local Canadian Red Cross office.

Cheques should be made payable to the Canadian Red Cross, earmarked "Attawapiskat" and can also be mailed to the Canadian Red Cross, Ontario Zone, 5700 Cancross Court, Mississauga, ON, L5R 3E9.

We thank the people who have contacted us looking for ways to help. Over the next number of days we will be responding to this outpouring of ideas, outrage and commitment. The message we have heard again and again is that we can do better as a nation. We must do better as a nation.

VIDEO: Life on the Attawapiskat Reserve
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