The Chief of Attawapiskat First Nation will press Prime Minister Justin Trudeau Monday for an agreement setting out clear goals to deal with the crisis in his community, which has not abated as he says six more youths attempted suicide over the past few days.
Chief Bruce Shisheesh is to meet in Ottawa with the Mr. Trudeau, marking the first time the two have ever met. The chief called for the meeting after his far-Northern Ontario community declared a state of emergency in April after a spate of youth suicide attempts.
"We are still in a crisis mode," Mr. Shisheesh said in a telephone interview Friday. "A few days ago we had six suicide attempts …"
The chief is determined to leave with some commitments – the community desperately needs land, housing, drinkable water and infrastructure, including sewers.
He also wants Mr. Trudeau to confirm that he will come to Attawapiskat to see for himself the situation, hopefully in late August or September.
"The bottom line is we will ask the Prime Minister to visit the community himself so he can witness and see … and he can understand," Mr. Shisheesh said.
The Prime Minister wrote to the chief last month agreeing to his request to meet to talk about the suicide-attempt crisis. In his letter, he also suggested he would visit, but did not give a specific date.
Some of his ministers have visited the community since the crisis. The Liberal government announced in its budget $8.4-billion over five years for indigenous health, culture, education and infrastructure.
Cameron Ahmad, a spokesman in the PMO, would not say what – if anything – will come out of Monday's meeting with Mr. Shisheesh.
"We are committed to rebuilding the nation-to-nation relationship, and engaging in a true partnership with First Nations peoples across Canada," Mr. Ahmad said.
The Prime Minister will also meet with a youth delegation from Attawapiskat and other remote Ontario First Nations who will be speaking about the situation in their communities.
"We need a youth-action plan," Mr. Shisheesh said. "We need to step in and assist the youth, who are in crisis. The process is under way but it needs to be extended."
But land and adequate housing are also critical for this community.
Attawapiskat is the most concentrated community in Canada's north – 2,000 residents live on less than 2.23 square kilometres of reserve land, according to the chief. He said, too, there are 1,500 people who want to return to the reserve but have nowhere to go.
About 50 or so children are born every year – and there is not enough land to build new housing. People have been living in emergency shelters and some were even living in disused work trailers that had been donated by a company.
The Ontario government has offered 1,235 hectares, said the chief. However, this is subject to a land-transfer agreement that has not been confirmed. The federal government would also have to agree to accept that land as an addition to the small remote reserve.
If the land is secured, then the infrastructure building can begin, including sewers and water. For example, the community's sewage treatment does not function properly, so no one can drink the water. All of the water is bottled and provided by the band council.
A report released this month by Human Rights Watch about the water crisis in First Nations communities noted that some of these advisories "persist for years, sometimes for decades."
"They are indicative of the broader systemic crisis that leaves many First Nations persons facing daily challenges just to access safe water for drinking and hygiene – a fundamental human right easily enjoyed by most Canadians," said the report.
After the infrastructure piece is figured out, building adequate housing can start. Mr. Shisheesh estimates housing could cost between $80-million and $100-million, and he wants a commitment from the Prime Minister that it will start within 18 months.
He says about 98 new homes are needed by 2020.
"We aren't going anywhere," said Mr. Shisheesh. "We are Attawapiskat and we are here to stay. Our children echo our belief [that] we need land and we need hope."