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Housing cuts will aggravate poor living conditions.

First Nations in Saskatchewan are well on their way to becoming the new Attawapiskat.

"There are a lot of our communities that are very, very close to having the same situation as we saw in Ontario and I'm sure there are many regions in Canada that can come forward and say we are in the same situation as what Canada saw when they saw the housing conditions in (Attawapiskat)," said Morley Watson, Vice-Chief with the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations.

Watson said Saskatchewan First Nations' housing and financial personnel will be gathering shortly to develop a strategy to help raise awareness about the deplorable living conditions on reserves.

"We're going to have to draw attention to Canadians about our communities. Our calls (to government) are following upon deaf ears and ... we're going to have to get this issue out and ... let the rest of Canada know the housing dilemma our First Nations people continue to face," he said.

He points out that only after Attawapiskat Chief and council brought the issue to the attention of the general Canadian public did Aboriginal and Northern Affairs Canada step in and take action. Attawapiskat declared a state of emergency on Oct. 28, 2011, over unsafe living conditions as members were living in tents and sheds and multiple families were crowded into single homes. ANAC put a third-party manager in place and moved in 22 modular homes at $2.2 million, repairs were carried out on the DeBeers ATCO trailers, renovations begun on three houses, and the healing lodge was retrofitted. The federal court recently ruled that ANAC's approach to third-party management of Attawapiskat First Nation was "unreasonable in all the circumstances of this case."

"The demand for adequate housing in our First Nations communities continues to grow and unfortunately the (band) councils aren't given the resources," said Watson.

Currently, there is a shortage of 11,000 homes on reserves across the province. Prince Albert Grand Council, which is Saskatchewan's largest tribal council, has an occupancy rate double the national average, and estimates its member communities require 4,000 new units just to meet the off-reserve rate.

Lack of adequate housing-both in numbers and conditions-has resulted in members living off-reserve in urban centres, overcrowding, and living in units that are inhabitable.

"We continue to try and convince government that housing is a good investment because when you have overcrowding or when you have people in deplorable conditions, there is a cost, and that normally is a health cost," said Watson.

He says that housing on reserves is not the only issue facing First Nations. Affordable housing in the cities is also a concern for band members who have to seek accommodation elsewhere.

First Nations hold that shelter is a Treaty Right. However, says the FSIN in its news release, the Crown has always maintained it is a social program. Oral histories, which have been upheld in court, clearly demonstrate the Treaty Elders had reason to believe shelter was promised by the Crown.

"We try to convince them that adequate housing doesn't cost anybody anything. It saves money in the long run because you have healthier people, healthier families and healthier communities," said Watson.


Sage Contributing Editor

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Author:Narine, Shari
Publication:Saskatechewan Sage
Geographic Code:1CSAS
Date:Sep 1, 2012
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