MP Charlie Angus says housing conditions in Cat Lake are a crisis. ( Photo Supplied by MP Charlie Angus)
OTTAWA- A task force will begin prioritizing work and action needed to address severe housing concerns at Cat Lake, including expediting housing materials funded two years ago that never made it to the community.
Minister of Indigenous Services Seamus O’Regan said today (Friday, Feb., 8 2019) “Our government is working directly with the
leadership of Cat Lake First Nation, alongside partners like Windigo Tribal Council, to address their housing and health concerns. The residents of this community must remain our priority.
The Cat Lake housing crisis was highlighted last month when federal NDP MP Charlie Angus called it a housing crisis and national disgrace. He said it is just the tip of a systemic problem plaguing Indigenous communities country-wide that requires a national task force to be formed.
Cat Lake is hundred kilometres north of Thunder Bay. The nation itself proclaimed a state of emergency due to “profoundly poor conditions of housing.”
The community declaration listed mould, structural issues and a lack of funds for routine maintenance as the causes of health problems including invasive bacterial diseases and lung infections.
Indigenous Services Minister Seamus O’Regan has said he is committed to working with the community to find solutions for its “serious housing” situation.
Ontario MP Charlie Angus joined his NDP colleagues Georgina Jolibois, Romeo Saganash and Niki Ashton to say mould in on-reserve housing is an invisible crisis that the federal government has known about at least since an auditor general’s report in 2003. Angus says a task force needs to examine the extent of mould in communities across the country, adding that children in Cat Lake have had to be removed from the community during the emergency.
After a second meeting Thursday, Feb., 7, 2019, with Cat Lake First Nation leadership, Windigo Tribal Council, the Ontario Regional Chief, and senior department officials from Indigenous Services Canada affirmed commitments and next steps. Another meeting has been scheduled for next week.
Minister O’Regan said he “spoke with Chief Keewaykapow to discuss his concerns, confirm yesterday’s meeting outcomes, and ensure that he and his leadership are comfortable with the plans agreed upon and actions required.
“We agreed that we would meet in Thunder Bay in the short term in coordination with AFN National Chief Bellegarde, as well as a visit to the community at a further date as work progresses.”
Indigenous Services Canada agreed it will:
- Expedite delivery of materials required to complete the seven-unit housing complex funded in 2017, for other repairs and for new construction.
- Provide funding for a professional project manager and financial advisor with the support of Windigo Tribal Council.
- Immediately begin repairs on priority units as identified by the task force – including but not limited to mould remediation, weatherstripping, and door and drywall repair or replacement.
- Confirm with the task force the priority units for replacement and solutions for families that require alternate accommodation.
- Ensure that the winter road is maintained regularly and monitored to maintain access to the remote community for people and materials as long as possible this season.
The community is served by a local nursing station operated by Indigenous Services Canada. We will additionally:
- Support and action an independent community medical assessment of identified health issues like rashes and respiratory illness, pending the Chief and Council confirming with ISC their desire to proceed with this option.
- Increase the community’s nursing staff to assist with any additional health-related concerns
- Expedite the ongoing repairs to the Cat Lake nursing station which should be complete by March 31
Minister O’Regan said “I thank Chief Keewaykapow of Cat Lake First Nation, Windigo Tribal Council, Ontario Regional Chief RoseAnne Archibald, and our Regional Office officials for their collaboration in advancing this crucial work through productive and action-oriented meetings.
“Our goals are shared: address the immediate health and housing needs of the community while planning and implementing long-term solutions. Our direction comes from the Chief and Council first and foremost.
I would encourage others who are engaged on this issue to work collaboratively with us in moving these actions forward. We will only achieve results when we work together.”