Skip to main content

Two boys walk past substandard housing on their way to play hockey in Attawapiskat on Dec. 17, 2011

Frank Gunn/Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press

A United Nations official had harsh words for Ottawa over the housing crisis in Attawapiskat, calling conditions in the first-nations community "dire" and noting that the problem appears to be widespread.

"I have been in communication with the Government of Canada to express my deep concern," James Anaya, the United Nations special rapporteur on indigenous peoples, wrote in a statement on Tuesday.

Attawapiskat declared a state of emergency this fall over a lack of suitable housing, and has been attracting national and international media attention since, as observers compare the conditions in the community to those found in the world's poorest countries.

Story continues below advertisement

Mr. Anaya, whose statement was published on the United Nations website, noted that many residents in the community of 1,800 live in unheated shacks or trailers that lack running water. And he suggested that Attawapiskat isn't the only reserve community in crisis.

He said he has received reports indicating that first-nations communities are systematically under-funded in Canada and wrote a letter to Ottawa outlining his concerns on Monday.

A spokeswoman for Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Duncan quickly fired back, characterizing the special rapporteur's missive as an attention-grabbing stunt.

"Anyone who reads the letter will see it lacks credibility," Michelle Yao wrote in an e-mail to The Globe and Mail. "Our government is focused on the needs of the residents of Attawapiskat – not publicity stunts."

The Conservative government says it has spent about $90-million on Attawapiskat over the past five years, and has blamed the housing crisis on financial mismanagement. Last month, it placed Attawapiskat under third-party management.

First-nations leaders asked the United Nations to monitor Canada's actions on the remote reserve earlier this month.

In his statement, Mr. Anaya noted that aboriginal communities face higher rates of poverty, and poorer health, education and employment outcomes than non-aboriginals in Canada.

Story continues below advertisement

"The social and economic situation of the Attawapiskat seems to represent the condition of many First Nation communities living on reserves throughout Canada, which is allegedly akin to Third World conditions," Mr. Anaya wrote.

Ms. Yao criticized the special rapporteur's letter as full of mistakes. She said it was erroneously addressed to former foreign affairs minister Lawrence Cannon, who was defeated in a federal election earlier this year and replaced by John Baird, but did not specify other errors.

"I think this is a government clutching at straws. They tried to blame the chief, they tried to blame me, now they're trying to blame the UN," NDP MP Charlie Angus said. "I think they need to realize that Canada's credibility is on the line."

Mr. Angus invited the special rapporteur to visit Attawapiskat and see the situation for himself.

Mr. Anaya's statement indicates that he has asked the government to comment on the accuracy of his information and explain what it is doing to improve conditions on reserves. "I will be monitoring closely the situation of the Attawapiskat First Nation and other aboriginal communities in Canada," he wrote.

Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Comments

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • All comments will be reviewed by one or more moderators before being posted to the site. This should only take a few moments.
  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed. Commenters who repeatedly violate community guidelines may be suspended, causing them to temporarily lose their ability to engage with comments.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.
Cannabis pro newsletter