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Attawapiskat: Canada’s “Fourth-World” Community


Six people live in this "tent" in Attawapiskat.

Nearly a month ago, the northern Ontario First Nations community Attawapiskat declared itself to be in a “state of emergency.”

This week, as winter sets in and snow is on the ground in the remote community, they are finally getting some attention–and some help.

In Canada, a state of emergency is normally declared when something terrible happens, such as an earthquake, flood or large fire. It’s a signal that “we need help, immediately.”

In this case, the state of emergency is that the people of Attawapiskat, in northern Ontario are living in conditions that are worse than those in many third-world countries. One reporter described going to Attawapiskat as, “like stepping into the fourth world.”

Some families in Attawapiskat live in tents. Nineteen families live in sheds that do not even have running water. One hundred and twenty-two families are living in homes that are condemned because of black mould and other problems. And there are 90 people living together in a single construction trailer.

One grade-five girl lives in a shed, with her two grandparents, who are both in their 80s. Their home has no running water or electricity. Their “toilet” is a plastic bucket they have to dump outside.

When people don’t have access to clean, running water to drink and with which to wash their food and hands, they can get very sick. One doctor who visited the community said the people are in danger of getting respiratory (breathing) diseases, digestive tract diseases, colds, ear infections, strep throat, bronchitis and other illnesses.

Boy with facial rash, Attawapiskat
Nine-year-old Treyvan has eczema and asthma, likely because of his family’s poor living conditions.

The houses are mostly uninsulated and most of them do not have electricity for heat. Some people are heating their homes with wood-burning stoves, which can be very dangerous. Children can easily get scalded by touching a wood-burning stove.

The community was given half-a-million dollars by the Canadian government, but that is a drop in the bucket compared to what they need. That money would, at most, help to repair five buildings, according to Charlie Angus, a member of parliament for Timmins-James Bay. Two hundred and sixty-eight homes are needed immediately to safely house the 2,000 people in the community.

Ironically, close to the communities lies the De Beers Victor Mine, the richest diamond mine in North America.

Charlie Angus is angry that even after the community declared a state of emergency, the government did not help the people of Attawapiskat. He wants Canada’s federal and provincial governments to give them the money they need to build their community up to the country’s standards for housing and living.

He says that since the state of emergency was declared, his office has received many calls from ordinary Canadians wanting to help. School kids have started to raise money for the community, and workers have offered to come north to help build homes.

But, he says, “Nothing will really change until there is action from the officials whose job it is to ensure that these citizens of Ontario and Canada are treated with a basic level of respect and dignity. The cold winter winds are hitting James Bay. People may die if nothing is done.”Map showing Attawapiskat, Ontario

The Canadian Red Cross brought some warm sleeping bags and heaters to the community on Tuesday; the temperature has dropped as low as -20C. Government representatives are also heading to the community to assess what needs to be done. Federal Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Duncan says Ottawa has given $80 million to the community since 2006 and wants to know why conditions there are still so poor.

In an email, Charlie Angus told that, “Since the beginning, kids across Canada have felt the inequality faced by First Nations children in what they simply describe as unfair treatment for kids no different than themselves. I am inspired by the generosity shown by our young people. Together, we can make a difference for our friends in Attawapiskat.”

Click below to see Charlie Angus talking about Attawapiskat in the legislature on Nov. 21:

By Jonathan Tilly

Writing/Discussion Prompt
What can you do? Brainstorm three things that you could do to help the northern Ontario First Nations community of Attawapiskat. If you’re able to, put your plan in effect and tell friends and family about your initiative.

Reading Prompt: Elements of Style
As you read today’s article you may have felt a sense of urgency, need, stress, or importance. How did the article encourage you to feel these emotions? What elements of style helped convey these feelings?

Identify some elements of style, including voice, word choice, and different types of sentences, and explain how they help readers understand texts (OME, Reading: 2.4).

Identify various elements of style – including word choice and the use of similes, personification, comparative adjectives, and sentences of different types, lengths, and structures – and explain how they help communicate meaning (OME, Reading: 2.4).

Identify various elements of style – including foreshadowing, metaphor and symbolism – and explain how they help communicate meaning and enhance the effectiveness of texts (OME, Reading: 2.4).

Grammar Feature: Compound Sentences
Compound sentences are types of sentences that join two independent clauses (basic sentences) with a comma and a conjunction (and, but, or). You can identify the two independent clauses in a compound sentence by asking yourself if both parts would make sense  on their own, as individual sentences. The two independent clauses in the sentence below are highlighted in green and blue.

School kids have started to raise money for the community, and workers have offered to come north to help build homes.

Underline the independent clauses in the sentences below.

1. Joshua and Soren left the party, but I didn’t see them go.

2. Adam told Jim about the renovation, and Jim started to laugh hysterically.

3. I can come over after I’m done my homework, or I can bring my homework to your house.

4. Jordan and Mel are having us over for brunch, but I don’t know what to bring.

5. Desdemona can run the Eco club, or all of the members can share the club’s responsibilities.