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Attawapiskat Gimme Shelter Plea Falls on Deaf Government Ears

Severe housing conditions and impending winter weather have led the leaders of Attawapiskat First Nation to call for evacuation; so far, Canadian and Ontario governments have not offered a plan
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They live in tents, dilapidated huts and a trailer or two, several generations under one tiny roof. They cook on wood stoves, and occasionally a child will get scalded because of the overcrowded conditions combined with precariously perched pots of boiling water. A lack of clean, running water causes rashes. There is no electricity.

United Nations refugee camp outside a so-called Third World war zone? Nope. It’s Canada. Northern Ontario, to be exact, on the shores of James Bay.

Attawapiskat First Nation’s leaders are begging the Canadian government to relocate them as winter temperatures encroach on their unlivable reserve’s fragile infrastructure and overcrowded housing. But a month after chief Theresa Spence first declared an emergency on October 28, the federal government has yet to offer assistance or a solution.

On November 18 she and other leaders requested that the community be evacuated, The Toronto Star reported.

About 1,800 people live in the small James Bay community in 303 houses, according to CBC News. Many of the community members overflow from the houses into tents or shacks built nearby, but given that at least half the homes have mold as well as sewage and roof leakage, they are not much better than the improvised structures.

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“I often have to remind myself that I am still working in the province of Ontario,” said Elizabeth Blackmore, a doctor who serves families along the James Bay coast, along with 11 other physicians, according to the Toronto Star.

The Star reported that up to 27 people live in one of the homes, and about 90 have taken up residence in a construction trailer that De Beers Canada Inc. left behind.

“At the moment it really is a crisis we are facing…. We are in a Third World situation,” said Spence to reporters at a press conference on Friday November 18, according to Member of Parliament (MP) for Timmins–James Bay Charlie Angus, writing for the Huffington Post. “I think we must [evacuate] because they are not in safe environment right now and winter is coming.”

Spence has requested $400,000 to renovate 15 homes, CBC News reported, but there has been no answer. She estimates that 200 houses are actually needed. An Ontario government spokesperson told Postmedia News that the provincial and federal governments are coordinating a reponse, but did not give a timeline.

Here is a video that Angus put together about the conditions.