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UN officer will monitor government's treatment of Attawapiskat 0

Kristy Kirkup, Parliamentary Bureau
A puppy sits on the porch of a home in Attawapiskat, Ontario on December 17, 2011. Twenty-one people live in the condemned house that has plastic on the ceilings to stop water entry. (REUTERS/Frank Gunn/Pool)

A puppy sits on the porch of a home in Attawapiskat, Ontario on December 17, 2011. Twenty-one people live in the condemned house that has plastic on the ceilings to stop water entry. (REUTERS/Frank Gunn/Pool)

A special United Nations officer who monitors the human rights of indigenous peoples is now watching how Canada handles a housing crisis at a northern Ontario reserve.

James Anaya, the UN's special rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, says he has been in contact with the federal government to express his "deep concern about the dire social and economic condition of the Attawapiskat First Nation which exemplifies the conditions of many aboriginal communities in the country."

The Red Cross recently delivered short-term help to 165 reserve residents living in shacks and trailers without heat or running water.

The federal government agreed to provide 22 mobile homes to Attawapiskat to address the housing crisis, but the portables won't be delivered until about mid-January when winter roads become available. Government officials are now working to fix up a nearby healing lodge to provide shelter in the meantime.

The government has also placed the community under third-party management despite cries of protest from opposition parties and the reserve's chief.

Anaya says Attawapiskat "seems to represent the condition of many First Nations communities living on reserves throughout Canada, which is allegedly akin to Third World countries."

In a statement, Anaya highlighted how aboriginal communities face higher poverty rates, and poorer health, education and employment rates compared to non-aboriginal people.

"I will be monitoring closely the situation of the Attawapiskat First Nation and other aboriginal communities in Canada, keeping an open dialogue with the government and all stakeholders to promote good practices, including new laws, government programs, and constructive agreements between indigenous peoples and states," he said.

The UN Human Rights Council first appointed Anaya in 2008 and renewed his mandate for another three years in 2011.

Earlier this month, the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) passed a resolution to call on the UN to observe the federal government's response to the housing emergency in Attawapiskat.

National Chief Shawn Atleo says the "appalling conditions" and chronic underfunding plaguing many First Nations communities like Attawapiskat are a "national disgrace."

Kristy.Kirkup@sunmedia.ca

On Twitter: @kkirkup


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