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Canada Quebec, Ottawa join effort to lift village out of Third World conditions

In the Algonquin community of Kitcisakik, located in Northern Quebec's Abitibi region, Third World living conditions necessitated a Third World solution.

Emergency Architects of Canada, a humanitarian organization that has other projects in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Darfur, intervened in Kitcisakik, where approximately 100 homes were without electricity, running water, a sewage system and proper heating.

Now, 1½ years later, the Quebec government has announced it will inject $1.4-million to help the community complete the reconstruction of the houses. Some of the money, about $200,000, will be put toward buying a new generator that will provide electricity to the community for part of the day. Another $195,000 is aimed at developing local economic initiatives.

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Kitcisakik is a no-man's-land riddled with contradictions and bureaucratic stalemates. The village's 400 residents live next to a lake, yet don't have access to a water supply system. Down the road, a hydro generating station sends electricity to towns such as Val d'Or yet bypasses the community. Because it is not considered a native reserve, Kitcisakik doesn't receive automatic funding from Ottawa, and without the money it can't build what it needs.

Federal government representatives were also in the village yesterday, to announce that Ottawa will help in the planning of a new elementary school and put an end to the busing of the village's grade-school children.

Children can attend school in the village until Grade 4, but then they are bused into Val d'Or, about 100 kilometres away, coming home only for weekends. That separation has been heartbreaking for some and a source of social problems for the children, especially during adolescence.

The community has spent almost a decade fighting for government intervention to build a new village. Mould had infiltrated the walls of the houses due to inadequate heating and insulation, posing the threat of respiratory problems, especially for children.

Then the Emergency Architects of Canada stepped in. During the summer of 2008 the group offered to equip the community with portable sawmills and begin the task of reconstructing the houses, in what was the group's first "humanitarian mission" at home.

"It is commendable to help disaster-stricken populations abroad, but isn't it just as urgent to intervene here at home, to help communities living in unacceptable conditions in a developed country such as ours?" Emergency Architects Canada's president and co-founder, Bernard McNamara, said yesterday after the government's aid announcements.

Kitcisakik Anicinapek Council Chief Edmond Brazeau called the province's help a temporary solution. The ultimate goal, he said, would be the construction of a new village, called "Project Wanaki," offering all the basic services that are taken for granted elsewhere in the country.

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"That's the challenge facing the community, and we are thankful towards our partners who have given us the means to adapt our homes to our needs, which helps us believe in the future of Kitcisakik," Chief Brazeau said.

The final decision and the millions of dollars in funding to build a new village will need to come from Ottawa. There is also a fundamental disagreement over where the new village should be located.

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