Attawapiskat demands respect for First Nation rights and entitlements

    TORONTO, Aug. 20 /CNW/ - Attawapiskat First Nation Chief Theresa Hall,
together with an estimated 50 First Nation members some of whom are also
evacuees, is calling on Indian Affairs Minister Strahl to come to the
community to see for himself the conditions that the people have to live
    "We were very disappointed yesterday after talks with Indian and Northern
Affairs Canada (INAC) broke down after we agreed to meet with them in a spirit
of friendship and co-operation to address a wide variety of concerns," said
Attawapiskat First Nation Chief Theresa Hall. "Their representatives were
confrontational and disrespectful to our concerns."
    The community members travelled more than 1,000 kilometres by air and bus
to take a stand outside Parliament Hill to call on the government to show
leadership so as to nurture a functional relationship between government,
First Nations and industry.
    Among the concerns raised by the Attawapiskat group with INAC include,
immediate financial assistance for meals and lodging for an estimated 90
evacuees of a sewage back-up crisis, as well as commitments to work together
toward a new school for the community, to address the housing crisis and water
and sewage crisis.
    "Indian Affairs flatly refused to assist the evacuees even after they
were told by Health Canada that the community had to be moved out of the
contaminated homes due to health and safety issues," Hall said, noting that De
Beers Canada President Jim Gowans wrote a letter dated August 18, 2009 to
Indian Affairs Minister Chuck Strahl urging the department to work with the
First Nation to remediate the issues community members are coming forward
with. "While we are happy that De Beers Canada has sent us a letter of
commitment to work with us to address our many issues, we are disappointed to
say the same is not true for Indian Affairs."
    With more than 1,000 community members homeless due to the housing
shortage crisis/water and sewer crisis and summer coming to a conclusion,
Chief Hall has emphatically stated she will not give up on this issue.
    "Our people are suffering in Third World poverty while living next door
to one of the largest and richest diamond mining operations in the world," she
said. "We have made efforts with De Beers as well as Ontario and Canada for
many months in an attempt to address our issues of poverty because our people
are suffering, our infrastructure is crumbling, and our patience is running
    A remote fly in community, Attawapiskat is confronted with significant
challenges, which it cannot remedy for lack of funding. These include an acute
housing shortage, overcrowding, toxic contamination of its school and homes,
and other public health and safety issues such as the failed sewage system
which is backing up and requiring the mass evacuation of residents. The
community is deeply concerned that only a fair and equitable distribution of
wealth from the commercial mining activities in its traditional territory will
permit it to address the crisis management demanded by its inadequate
educational, public health, and physical infrastructure systems. Attawapiskat
residents are currently trapped in this situation without options.
    "We cannot continue to stand by as our people suffer," Hall continued.
"We have approached Ontario and Canada with concerns relating to the issuing
of permits and their apparent lack of leadership in nurturing a workable
relationship between First Nations and industry. It is time they stepped up to
the plate."

    Attawapiskat First Nation is a remote community on the west coast of
James Bay with a population of 1,800 on reserve and a total population of
2,300 and is approximately 700 kilometres north of Timmins, Ontario.

For further information:

For further information: Chief Theresa Hall, Attawapiskat First Nation,
(705) 997-2166, (705) 365-8507 cell; Deputy Chief Theresa Spence, Attawapiskat
First Nation, (807) 629-6704 cell; Greg Shisheesh, Community Liaison/Protest
Co-ordinator, (807) 472-3569 cell; Joyce Hunter, A/Director of Communications,
Nishnawbe Aski Nation, (807) 472-5638 cell

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