Attawapiskat’s ‘dire’ conditions are deeply concerning: UN human rights official- by Thandi Fletcher (National Post – December 20, 2011)

The National Post is Canada’s second largest national paper.

OTTAWA — A United Nations human rights expert says he is deeply concerned about the “dire” conditions in the Attawapiskat First Nation community.

“I have been in communication with the Government of Canada to express my deep concern about the dire social and economic condition of the Attawapiskat First Nation,” wrote James Anaya, the UN special rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, in a letter to the Canadian government published Tuesday on the UN website.

Anaya, who reports to the UN’s Human Rights Council, said he is especially worried for the people of the northern Ontario reserve as temperatures drop to extreme levels. “Many of this First Nation’s approximately 1,800 members live in unheated shacks or trailers, with no running water,” he wrote. “The problem is particularly serious as winter approaches.”

Attawapiskat is at the centre of a political battle over unsafe and unsanitary housing conditions on Canada’s First Nations reserves.

For at least the past two years, many of the reserve’s residents have been living in makeshift tents and shacks without heat, electricity or indoor plumbing. The community declared a state of emergency in October.

Anaya said the conditions in Attawapiskat are reflected in aboriginal communities across Canada.

“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,” Anaya wrote. “Yet, this situation is not representative of non-Aboriginal communities in Canada, a country with overall human rights indicators scoring among the top of all countries of the world.”

Pointing his finger at the federal government, Anaya noted that aboriginals in Canada face higher rates of poverty and poorer health, education and employment rates compared to their non-aboriginal counterparts.

He wrote First Nations communities are “systematically under-funded” compared to non-Aboriginal communities in Canada. He added that the federal government has resisted efforts by the Canadian Human Rights Commission to inquire into allegations of discrimination in funding to First Nations.

“This unequal funding is allegedly rooted in various funding formulas and policies used by Indian and Northern Affairs Canada to allocate funds to First Nations to support various social and economic programs,” the letter reads.

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