Feds promise $10 million for housing for Cat Lake First Nation
|Toronto Star 21 Feb 2019 at 11:51|
The Canadian government is promising more than $10 million to build new homes, repair others and put portables in place in a remote Indigenous community in northern Ontario where substandard mould-infested housing has sparked a health crisis, according to a framework agreement signed on Thursday.
The interim deal, signed in Thunder Bay, Ont., by Indigenous Services Minister Seamus O’Reagan and local First Nation leaders, will be followed by a memorandum of understanding that is to be signed in two weeks in Cat Lake First Nation itself, the two sides said.
According to the framework deal, Ottawa will provide $3.5 million for 15 new homes, $1.5 million to demolish dilapidated structures and prepare the lots, and $2.1 million to repair and renovate 21 houses.
“The homes that will be demolished and replaced by new units have been determined to be priorities ... as homes that cannot be repaired for less than the cost of a new house,” the framework states.
In addition, the government will put up another $3 million to ensure delivery and installation of 10 portable houses for permanent use by Cat Lake First Nation but which can be used for transitional housing.
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A major issue is ensuring that an existing winter ice road — the community’s only land access — is capable of supporting the loads required to get portables and building supplies to Cat Lake. The agreement calls on the parties to ensure the ice road remains usable for as long as possible this season.
“Time is of the essence,” O’Regan said.
Among those at Thursday’s meeting was Cat Lake Chief Matthew Keewaykapow and Nishnawbe Aski Nation Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler.
The Cat Lake band declared an emergency in mid-January, saying the terrible housing conditions in the community had led to severe lung and skin ailments, especially affecting about 100 children. The framework agreement, signed on behalf of Cat Lake by the Windigo Tribal Council, specifically recognizes the declaration.
This week, a 48-year-old woman, Nashie Oombash died in the community — reportedly exposure to mould made her ill — weeks after her doctor in Sioux Lookout, Ont., said she was having “significant breathing problems when she is at home which is likely associated with the mould in her house.” Autopsy results were not yet available.
Remote Cat Lake, a fly-in Ojibway community of about 450 people, is about 180 kilometres north of Sioux Lookout.
The framework deal also calls for establishment of a technical team under a project manager to implement the housing plan and the appointment of a housing manager to provide maintenance of units.
Last week, Cat Lake leaders expressed anger and frustration at the lack of action from both levels of government. They said they had been asking for help since 2006 to no avail. Poor health had become endemic, with an average of one person every three days having to be medevaced out for health care, they said.
They also warned they might have to consider evacuations to escape the mould that was making them ill — a warning repeated on Thursday.
At the provincial legislature on Thursday, Ontario’s Minister of Indigenous Affairs Greg Rickford said he had been in discussions with Cat Lake leaders, and pointed a finger at the federal government.
“We’re co-ordinating our efforts with respect to their declaration of an emergency response,” Rickford said. “We continue to help them find solutions for their housing crisis.”