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Sunday, December 11, 2011

An Opinion- When is Enough, Enough?

When is Enough Enough?
By: Christine McFarlane
This is a very difficult topic to write about. It angers me and I know that it angers many others from what I have been reading on news sites, social media sites such as Facebook and hearing from others. This post is about Attawapiskat First Nation and the question that burns in my mind “When is enough, enough?”
In October, the Attawapiskat First Nations declared an emergency. The community, situated in far northern Ontario is made up of 1,800 mostly Cree citizens and has announced that the situation in which they live is dire. There is not only a severe housing shortage, but there are other problems such as third world living conditions and a lack of proper schooling. The living conditions include mould build up, major overcrowding in the homes that families are living in, lack of electricity and heating, and pails being used for bathrooms. These are conditions that are not acceptable anywhere in the world, but we are seeing it, not only in third world countries but also in our very own backyard-Canada.
I’m angry that the Canadian government continues to turn a blind eye to First Nations people. First Nations people have had to endure enough through such federal practices and policies that saw many lose their children, their languages and their right to self-determination. Why does the Canadian government still continue to treat First Nations people as second rate citizens? 
The children of Attawapiskat not only go to school in temporary constructions, which were erected after a diesel fuel leak took the main building in 2000, but also suffer chronic skin diseases brought on by their poor living conditions, and even burns caused by the cheap stoves that are used in the flimsily erected homes. If these conditions were happening outside of First Nations communities, I am sure that the treatment that the people of Attawapiskat are currently receiving would not be happening.
There was an energetic campaign by students, the one famously spearheaded by Shannen Koostachin, called “Shannen’s Dream” The premise behind “Shannen’s Dream” was that “for over 10 years, children and youth did not have access to a safe school environment in which to learn and grow,” and “despite promises the Federal Government has done nothing more than place temporary portables on the school ground which was contaminated by diesel oil.”
Shannen Koostachin became the face and voice for the young children of Attawapiskat and advocated for a new school to replace the makeshift portables in her community. Koostachin was known for standing up to government officials federally and at the international level- to raise awareness of the conditions of Attawapiskat and to ensure that all children had access to a healthy school. There is still no school! Would this happen in mainstream Canada? 
Most citizens of Attawapiskat have endured these desperate conditions since a sewage overflow drove them from their homes in 2009. Some have lived this way for longer. Now, with most temporary accommodations deteriorating, the situation has become critical. Disaster officials are now working at the scene. Its a shame that the government has ignored this situation and let it get to where it is now. Its a shame that Red Cross had to fly in to help, when the government could have helped long ago to prevent the current situation from happening.

To add to the irony, a few miles away, and on Attawapiskat land, the DeBeers diamond mine extracts hundreds of millions of dollars in resources, delivering valuable tax dollars to the government, and while it employs a small part of the community, the riches, remain in the hands of others.
Canadians continue to benefit tremendously from resources and land extracted from First Nations while failing to fulfil their obligations through the treaties that gave them access to these riches.
I ask, when is enough, enough?

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