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Send troops to help Attawapiskat, NDP tells Harper

Band Chief Theresa Spence, MP Charlie Angus and Interim NDP Leader Nycole Turmel listen to an Attawapiskat resident describe conditions in her temporary shelter on the Norther Ontario reserve on Nov. 29, 2011.

Adrian Wyld/Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

The Interim NDP Leader is asking the government of Canada to send in the military to help with the housing crisis in the remote Ontario First Nations community of Attawapiskat.

"Moving supplies into this community to alleviate the housing crisis will require an extraordinary level of co-operation," Nycole Turmel said Wednesday in a letter to Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

"Given the extreme weather conditions and the fact that the winter road will not be ready for nearly two months, the community is seeking co-ordinated logistical help," Ms. Turmel wrote. "For this reason, they have asked me to convey that they are asking for military support to help in the crisis."

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The reserve, which is home to just under 2,000 people, declared a state of emergency a month ago because people are living in tents and plywood shacks with no running water or adequate sources of heat.

The Conservative government responded by saying is has sent more than $90-million to Attawapiskat since 2006 and dispatching a third party to manage the federal money that's been spent by the community.

Theresa Spence, the Chief of Attawapiskat, was outraged by the reaction from Ottawa. She told reporters that the money has been accounted for, that it has paid for things like health care, education, community services and housing, but it has not been sufficient to meet her community's needs.

When non-aboriginal communities declare a state of emergency, the government jumps to help, Ms. Spence said. When it is a cry from a first-nations community, she said, they send in a third-party manager.

Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Duncan has said the living conditions of the people in Attawapiskat are his primary concern. Since the crisis was declared, the government has offered $500,000 to address immediate needs identified by the community. That money will be used to renovate homes for five families. It is also sending other material including, like high efficiency wood stoves and portable toilets.

But Ms. Turmel said Ms. Spence had requested a military response.

"Our military has played an incredible role at times of other humanitarian crises in Canada. I am sure that you will agree that the conditions facing people in Attawapiskat are dire and likely to get worse as the winter sets in," she wrote. "Therefore, I am asking you today to act immediately and target resources, including military resources as requested by the community, towards building adequate housing in Attawapiskat."

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Shawn Atleo, the National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, said he would agree with a military response but only if that is what Attawapiskat has requested.

"This is about first nations driving solutions forward and I think that is the real essence of the fundamentals of this discussion," Mr. Atleo said in an interview Wednesday with the CBC. "I would really look to the chiefs, in this case in Attawapiskat and Grand Chief [Stan]Louttit for their leadership about what kinds of responses that they see are required."

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