SIOUX LOOKOUT - MPP Sol Mamakwa (Kiiwetinoong) is calling on Doug Ford to prevent a tragedy and take emergency measures to help 14 families living outside in tents and make-shift shelters as temperatures dip below -40 C in Eabametoong. “Premier, you must do everything in your power to ensure that people do not freeze to death in Eabametoong this winter,” said Mamakwa in the following open letter:
Premier of Ontario
Toronto ON M7A 1A1
Via email: [email protected]
February 25, 2021
Re: Housing Crisis in Eabametoong First Nation
I am writing to you as Premier to provide emergency housing assistance to people in Eabametoong and several other First Nations communities. Community members are living in dangerous makeshift shelters in -40 degrees winter weather because they have nowhere else to live. Currently, in Eabametoong, five families are living in tents while nine families are living in shacks.
While this would be unacceptable in any weather, it is especially alarming given that we are in the coldest month of the winter. As such, it is no exaggeration to say that this issue is a matter of life and death. The community members living in these shelters could freeze to death if you do not take action.
I am calling on you to take emergency measures to help winterize those shelters and to provide emergency shelters to those who need it immediately, so our people don’t die.
People in Eabametoong have been driven outside into life-threatening cold weather because their homes are overcrowded and in such poor condition. Many of the homes have severe mould and bug infestations, making them dangerous and unlivable.
Currently, 93 new houses need to be built in order to address the housing situation. However, the housing crisis is just one part of the infrastructure collapse in the community. Eabametoong has been on a boil water advisory for 20 years and is facing issues with the sewage system and lift stations.
The infrastructure crisis in First Nations communities has come to a head during this pandemic. It is no coincidence that the rate of COVID-19 among Indigenous peoples living on reserves is nearly 40 per cent higher than the rest of Canada’s population. Overcrowding in Indigenous communities is allowing the virus to spread like wildfire. Since small homes often house large families, when one member tests positive, it is very difficult to isolate. As such, all members succumb to the virus.
Indigenous peoples face higher rates of arthritis, diabetes and asthma, which lead to worse outcomes when they are exposed to COVID-19. As such, you must do everything in your power to address this housing crisis. Again, it is a matter of life and death.
Premier, there is no way that half-measures and one-time spending will fix this. While emergency measures need to be taken immediately, communities like Eabametoong require direct and sustained action. They need a commitment from you that your government will not leave them to deal with this alone. If left alone, community members will have no choice but to put their lives on the line, and resort to shelters that are unsafe.
If you are serious about repairing Ontario’s relationship with First Nations, we encourage you to tackle this issue head on. This means working with communities, building 93 new homes in Eabametoong and developing comprehensive housing strategies in other First Nations. With the new budget being tabled soon, this is the perfect opportunity to show your financial commitment to remedying this crisis.
What is happening in Eabametoong and so many other First Nations communities is a crisis; there’s nothing else we can call it. And during times of crisis, we expect the government to step in. These communities need your help to secure safe housing.
As the Premier, you must do everything in your power to ensure that people do not freeze to death in Eabametoong this winter, and provide a long-term solution to build safe and secure housing for Indigenous peoples in Ontario.
Given the urgency of this situation, I look forward to your prompt response.
Chief and Council, Eabametoong First Nation
Minister Greg Rickford, Minister of Indigenous Affairs, Minister of Energy, Northern Development and Mines
Charlie Angus, MP Timmins-James Bay
Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler, Nishnawbe Aski Nation
Eric Melillo, MP Kenora