I did call you back and left a message in your voicemail.

Indeed, witnessing the horrible and deplorable living conditions of First Nation peoples of Attawapiskat gives a black eye to all Canadians. It is very sad and totally unacceptable for anyone to be expected to raise their children, their Elders and their families in such dreadful conditions.

I am disappointed and very disturbed when all parties are playing the blame game. The solution is to move away from pointing fingers and focus on the families.

I understand Attawapiskat has been in Indian Affairs imposed co- and third-party management for the last 12 years. While I agree that there is a need for transparency and accountability, one must consider the right of First Nations to participate in domestic decision-making which in its self is a human right. To participate in the decision-making is both rooted in a basic human right and essential to the effective enjoyment of that right.

The plight of Attawapiskat touches us all. Faith Tomatuk, a 14-year-old from Eastmain, raised $30,000 from her community. When she first heard of the poor conditions of Attawapiskat, she immediately wanted to do something. She had toys, Barbie dolls and clothes she wanted to donate. She put posters out and was able to move the community by her actions. Faith has a passion to help others in need and is carrying on the values taught to her by her parents. Her father, Clayton Tomatuk, remembers the first time she wanted to help people in Attawapiskat. She was eight years old then, and there had been major flooding in the northern Ontario Cree community just before Christmas.

35 years ago my Cree Nation lived in similar living conditions as my fellow Cree neighbours across from James Bay.

Unfortunately, our housing conditions were only addressed after we had lost eight children to a gastroenteritis epidemic. This was in the 1980s. We had the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement and promises of community development, which included housing, water and sewage infrastructure. The only time the government deals with their obligations is when major incidences are reported in the media. Today we still have a backlog of 2500 units.

After many years of fighting in courts about the implementation of JBNQA, appearing before standing committees, submitting reports to INAC, meeting with various federal ministers and taking our issues to the international community, we now are able to build our communities. First Nations of this country shouldn’t have to take these kinds of steps for the government to honour its treaty relationships with us. Shame on Canada.

The government of the day must address immediately the dreadful conditions of Attawapiskat. They need to set up a special team of experts with participation of the First Nation and produce specific measures in addressing the immediate needs of the people of Attawapiskat.

The Royal Commission on Aboriginal People came up with some very good recommendations that need to be revisited.

The government needs to deal with the Treaty issues, it needs to deal with First Nation share of the benefits of natural resources on First Nation Lands. The provincial governments must be involved in addressing the First Nation agenda.

I have said enough, as long others thing that they know what’s best for First Nations and exclude the participation of First Nations regarding their future, we will never remove the black eye of Canada in its treatment of First Nations.

Matthew Coon Come
Grand Chief, Grand Council of the Crees (Eeyou Istchee)