First Nations In States Of Emergency Get Inadequate Response From Canada

The Neskantaga First Nation in northern Ontario declared a state of emergency in 2013 after seven youth took their own lives. (Sherry Prenevost)

The Neskantaga First Nation in northern Ontario declared a state of emergency in 2013.

The following information was originally published in the Toronto Star.

Government of Canada responses when First Nations reserves declare an emergency are often inadequate and unresolved for years.

It took three sudden deaths, four suicides and 20 suicide attempts for the Neskantaga First Nation in Ontario to declare a state of emergency three years ago.

The community says that it will take much more than what the government has offered so far to end the crisis 500 kilometres north of Thunder Bay.

Desperation hardly begins to describe the situation in the community that is home to 400 members. It has the shameful distinction of being the First Nations reserve with the longest-running boil water advisory. The warning was issued by Health Canada on Feb. 1, 1995.

But the community reached the cracking point that led to the emergency declaration on April 17, 2013, when a 19-year-old boy killed himself while others were gathered for the burial of another young man who had died a week earlier.

The community experienced an emotional collapse. The federal and provincial governments responded by bringing in psychologists and counsellors to help deal with the grief and to treat others deemed to be at risk of taking their own lives, according to Neskantaga’s current chief, Wayne Moonias.

The assistance was “very limited,” he said. “We had to basically fight for whatever resources we were able to get.”

Despite the community’s best efforts, the problems continued.

State of Emergency

The state of emergency declaration is one tool available to First Nations communities in crisis, just as it is for any Canadian municipality. Whether the cause is a natural disaster, infrastructure failure or health problem, the declaration is meant to trigger an urgent response from the federal and provincial governments to bring the ordeal to an end.

A Toronto Star investigation has found that the government responses when First Nations reserves declare an emergency are often inadequate. Chiefs, band council members and native advocacy groups who have experience with these situations said the government assistance often lacks both money and resources to bring the emergencies to an end.

The investigation also found that states of emergency on reserves frequently linger, unresolved, for years.

In Ontario, the longest ongoing state of emergency dates back six years. On June 1, 2010, the Mushkegowuk Tribal Council, which includes the remote James Bay community of Attawapiskat, declared an emergency over what it said was a youth-suicide epidemic. The council is demanding funding for a public inquiry before it will rescind the declaration.

It was also in Attawapiskat, which is home to 2,000 people, that the most recent state of emergency was declared on April 9, 2016.

Numerous indigenous leaders complained that the federal and provincial governments take a reactive approach to crisis rather than trying to address the systemic issues at the heart of the problem.

Neskantaga’s current chief, Wayne Moonias said there are still suicide attempts in the community. Just after Christmas, a 14-year-old girl killed herself.

“Imagine if you’re living in a two-bedroom house with four or three other families and unable to sleep in your own room. Imagine if you’re not able to secure employment. Imagine if you don’t have drinking water along with the tragic losses that you’ve experienced,” Moonias said. “That’s what some of our families and youth and community members are facing.”

Ontario’s Aboriginal Affairs Minister, David Zimmer, issued a written statement to the Star, saying that responsibility for conditions on reserves falls to the federal government, although the province plays a role in the emergency response.

Indigenous and Northern Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett, who visited Attawapiskat, Neskantaga and Pikangikum first nations recently, said in a written statement that her department takes state of emergency declarations “with the utmost seriousness.”

“Our department is committed to ensuring there is immediate action by INAC in collaboration with the appropriate departments, as well as our provincial and territorial partners when an emergency is declared,” Bennett’s statement said. “Beyond the immediate situation, we remain dedicated to working in genuine partnership to address the inexcusable social and economic gaps that exist in many indigenous communities.”

Scroll down to see a list of all the First Nation state of emergencies in effect ― including 28 in Ontario. 

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First Nations states of emergency in Canada

Alberta

No active states of emergency

Resolved State of Emergency:

Location: Blood Tribe First Nation

Reason: Flooding

Date: June 17, 2014

Location: Blood Tribe First Nation

Reason: Drug use and abuse

Date: March 4, 2015

Location: Bigstone Cree First Nation

Reason: Wildfire

Date: May 27, 2015

Location: Tallcree First Nation

Reason: Wildfire

Date: July 7, 2015

British Columbia

No active states of emergency

Resolved states of emergency:

Location: Tseshaht First Nation

Reason: Severe wind and rain storm

Date: December 2014

Manitoba

Active states of emergency

Location: Cross Lake First Nation

Reason: Multiple suicide attempts

Date: March 2016

New Brunswick

No active states of emergency

Newfoundland and Labrador

No active states of emergency

No states of emergency declared since 2014

Northwest Territories

No active states of emergency

No states of emergency declared since 2014

Nova Scotia

No active states of emergency

No states of emergency declared since 2014

Nunavut

Active states of emergency

Resolved states of emergency:

Location: Pond Inlet

Reason: Breakdown of community sewage trucks

Date: Feb. 11, 2015

Location: Pangnirtung

Reason: Power outages due to fire

Date: April 2, 2015

Ontario

Active states of emergency

Location: Mushkegowuk Tribal Council

Reason: Mental health crisis

Date: June 1, 2010

Location: Constance Lake First Nation

Reason: Failure of the water treatment facility

Date: July 28, 2010

Location: Mushkegowuk Tribal Council

Reason: Poor housing conditions

Date: Oct. 29, 2011

Location: Attawapiskat First Nation

Reason: Poor housing conditions

Date: Nov. 12, 2011

Location: Independent First Nations Alliance

Reason: Lack of withdrawal management support

Date: Feb. 23, 2012

Location: Pikangikum First Nation

Reason: Power and telephone outage

Date: Nov. 25, 2012

Location: Neskantaga First Nation

Reason: Mental health crisis

Date: April 17, 2013

Location: Attawapiskat First Nation

Reason: Flooding and sewage back up

Date: April 30, 2013

Location: Constance Lake First Nation

Reason: Flooding

Date: May 2, 2013

Location: Batchewana First Nation

Reason: Flooding

Date: Sept. 12, 2013

Location: Sandy Lake First Nation

Reason: Housing crisis

Date: Oct. 11, 2013

Location: Slate Falls First Nation

Reason: Human health concern

Date: Nov. 13, 2013

Location: Mishkeego-gamang First Nation

Reason: Mental health crisis

Date: March 3, 2014

Location: Neskantaga First Nation

Reason: Loss of water supply

Date: April 2014

Location: Gull Bay First Nation

Reason: Critical infrastructure failure

Date: May 3, 2014

Location: Kashechewan First Nation

Reason: Spring flood

Date: May 10, 2014

Location: Couchiching First Nation

Reason: Flooding damage to homes and infrastructure.

Date: June 12, 2014

Location: Seine River First Nation

Reason: Flooding

Date: June 21, 2014

Location: Nigigoonisiminikaaning First Nation

Reason: Threat of floods from the Rainy River water system

Date: June 21, 2014

Location: Poplar Hill First Nation

Reason: Lack of sustainable power from the diesel generating system

Date: Sept. 3, 2014

Location: Ojibways of Onigaming First Nation

Reason: Mental health crisis

Date: Oct. 30, 2014

Location: Attawapiskat First Nation

Reason: Human health crisis

Date: Dec. 1, 2014

Location: Peawanuck First Nation

Reason: Threat of flooding

Date: May 13, 2015

Location: Dokis First Nation

Reason: Diesel fuel spill contaminating the water plant system

Date: June 8, 2015

Location: Grassy Narrows First Nation

Reason: Contaminated drinking water

Date: Aug. 25, 2015

Location: Bearskin Lake First Nation

Reason: Mental health and crisis management difficulties

Date: Dec. 23, 2015

Location: Northwest Angle No. 33 First Nation

Reason: Water contamination

Date: Feb. 17, 2016

Location: Attawapiskat First Nation

Reason: Multiple suicide attempts

Date: April 9, 2016

Resolved states of emergency:

Location: Wawakapewin First Nation

Reason: Loss of water supply

Date: March 2014

Location: Chippewas of Nawash First Nation

Reason: Water treatment plant failure

Date: June 6, 2014

Location: Mitaajigamiing First Nation

Reason: Potential flooding which would impact water treatment plant

Date: June 18, 2014

Location: Wabaseemoong First Nation

Reason: Flooding

Date: June 24, 2014

Location: Six Nations of the Grand River First Nation

Reason: Environmental contamination

Date: April 2015

Location: Constance Lake First Nation

Reason: Seasonal flooding causing water and sewer back up in homes

Date: April 16, 2015

Location: Fort Albany and Kashechewan First Nation

Reason: Potential floods due to spring ice break up

Date: April 27, 2015

Location: Shoal Lake #40 First Nation

Reason: Loss of community’s ferry

Date: May 6, 2015

Location: Mattagami First Nation

Reason: Power loss due to ice storm

Date: Dec. 13, 2015

Location: Lake Helen First Nation

Reason: Bridge closure

Date: Jan. 10, 2016

Quebec

No active states of emergency

No states of emergency declared since 2014

Saskatchewan

No active states of emergency

Resolved states of emergency:

Location: Lac La Ronge First Nation Reason: Wildfire

Date: June 6, 2015

Location: Lac La Ronge First Nation

Reason: Wildfire

Date: June 25, 2015

Location: Clearwater River Dene Nation

Reason: Wildfire, smoke and air-quality issues

Date: 2015

Location: Birch Narrows Dene Nation

Reason: Wildfire, smoke and air-quality issues

Date: 2015

Location: Little Red River Reserve

Reason: Wildfire, smoke and air-quality issues

Date: 2015

Location: Wahpeton Dakota Nation

Reason: Wildfire, smoke and air-quality issues

Date: 2015

Location: Canoe Lake First Nation

Reason: Wildfire, smoke and air-quality issues

Date: 2015

Location: La Plonge First Nations

Reason: Wildfire, smoke and air-quality issues

Date: 2015

Location: English River (Patuanak) First Natio

Reason: Wildfire, smoke and air-quality issues

Date: 2015

Location: South End First Nation

Reason: Wildfire, smoke and air-quality issues

Date: 2015

Location: Deschambault Lake (Kimosom Pwatinahk)

Reason: Wildfire, smoke and air-quality issues

Date: 2015

Location: James Smith Cree Nation

Reason: Flooding

Date: 2014

Location: Stanley Mission Indian Band

Reason: Flooding

Date: 2014

Location: Star Blanket Cree Nation

Reason: Flooding

Date: 2014

Location: Ochapowace First Nation

Reason: Flooding

Date: 2014

Location: Kawacatoose First Nation IR #88

Reason: Flooding

Date: 2014

Location: Peepeekisis IR #81

Reason: Flooding

Date: 2014

Location: Little Black Bear Reserve

Reason: Flooding

Date: 2014

Location: Muskowekwan First Nation #85

Reason: Flooding

Date: 2014

Location: Cowessess FN #73

Reason: Flooding

Date: 2014

Location: Sakimay First Nation #74

Reason: Flooding

Date: 2014

Location: Carry the Kettle First Nation

Reason: Flooding

Date: 2014

Yukon

No active states of emergency

No states of emergency declared since 2014

About the data:

The information contained in this list is based on information obtained from provincial, territorial and federal governments.

The Star requested details on all active states of emergency declared on First Nations reserves, as well as details on all states of emergency on reserves that were called between January 2014 and the present and have since been lifted.

Some provinces have laws by which states of emergency automatically expire after a set period of time. In Alberta and British Columbia, for example, a state of emergency expires after seven days. In Manitoba, it expires automatically after 30 days.

There may be additional health emergencies that are not recorded in this data. Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada officials said that Health Canada is responsible for information on First Nations health emergencies. Health Canada officials said that local and provincial governments keep that information. With the exception of Ontario, Quebec, Saskatchewan, provinces referred the Star’s inquiries back to the federal government.

Sources:

Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada; Ontario Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services; Alberta Indigenous Relations; Secrétariat aux affaires autochtones du Québec; Saskatchewan Government Relations; Nova Scotia Department of Health and Wellness; Yukon Department of Community Services, Northwest Territories Municipal and Community Affairs; Nunavut Emergency Management.

Toronto Star:

http://on.thestar.com/1NK0LDU

http://on.thestar.com/1VN1c8V


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