Sunday, 19 April 2009

Our home and native land: the Attawapiskat story

In the video, Chuck Strahl is shown in his favourite cowboy role.

Imagine how the public would react if this happened to a white community. 30 years ago, 30,000 gallons of diesel oil leaked into ground under the school. Indian Affairs is responsible both for the school and the oil installation. In 1984 a government report said “immediate steps” must be taken. In 2000 parents pulled their children out because of toxic fumes; the old school was finally closed, and children were jammed into portable classrooms, twice as many as the Ministry's own standards allow. After 8 years of delay, the Harper government demolished the old school and promised to build a new one. Last year, that promise was broken when Indian Affairs funding was slashed under Chuck Strahl.

That was when the Ontario Public School Boards Association unanimously urged the federal government to reverse its postponement of 29 desperately needed native schools. Harper, however, wanted the money for tax cuts to white voters.

The demolition of the old school has left an “open wound”. The stench of diesel emanating from the pit is overwhelming. Teachers, children and parents complain of headaches, nausea, skin rashes, nosebleeds, chronic diarrhea in infants, and children just "passing out". The local MP and MPP say those symptoms are consistent with exposure to benzene, toluene and ethyl benzene, chemicals known for causing leukemia, bone marrow damage and kidney failure. Attawapiskat wants all children from the community to be evacuated until site remediation is completed.

Minister Strahl called the MP/MPP visit a “a publicity stunt”. This is the same man who as a rightwing Reform MP from Chilliwack attacked “the never ending dependence of these aboriginal people on the taxpayers of Canada”, called for privatization of native land (the policy known in the USA as termination), and threatened racial violence against natives asserting their aboriginal fishing rights on the Fraser River (“there are going to be lives lost over this“). In 2007 Prime Minister Harper appointed him to Indian Affairs -- putting the fox in charge of the henhouse.

A comment on the latest Attawapiskat video says, "If a family did this to their children they would lose their kids, be charged and possibly be imprisoned, but it is again the government mistreating its own!"

Meanwhile, diamond companies like DeBeers expect to make $billions in profits in the area. Ontario's Minister of Northern Development and Mines boasts that Canada is now the world's third largest supplier of diamonds.
Strahl quotations from Hansard 1993-2001. See also the international petition supporting Attawapiskat First Nation; and a tourist's photos and comments on the impact of diamond mining in the area.

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