Federal government promises full support to improve aboriginal housing
Ontario Aboriginal Housing Services is a corporation with a mandate to provide safe and affordable housing to urban and rural First Nation, Inuit and Métis people living off-Reserve in Ontario.
Government of Ottawa had been criticized for not taken any action following the devastating fire that had killed a family of five on Dec. 15.
Oneida Chief Randall Phillips told a news conference Thursday about the Government’s rejection of a plea for money to upgrade 50 houses at the Oneida Nation of the Thames.
Phillips said the home which caught fire was old and it should have been on the list of homes the reserve was hoping to upgrade.
Bennett stated Friday “Our government is committed to closing the unacceptable housing gap for indigenous people.”
“The wide-reaching need for improved infrastructure – like housing, community centres, and fire protection services – is a result of years of chronic underfunding.”
Romeo Saganash, the federal NDP’s indigenous affairs critic also said,
“Violence, suicide, the low rate of education attainment, these are all directly related to the lack of housing in the communities,” he said in an interview.
Bennett said in written responses to questions recently listed in Parliament that the federal government was not aware of the number of indigenous people died due to fire because it had stopped collecting fire data six years back to ease the “reporting burden” on First Nations communities.
She said her department would work with partners, including the Aboriginal Firefighters Association of Canada (AFAC).
AFAC is a united body of regional First Nations Fire Protection Associations from across Canada established to represent the interests of these associations, help in information exchange, support in implementing the services and promote national standards in fire prevention and education within First Nations in Canada.
Bennett added that all necessary actions would be taken to ensure the safety of First Nations communities.
"First Nations people" refers to Status and non-status "Indian" peoples in Canada. Currently, there are 617 First Nation communities, which represent more than 50 nations or cultural groups and 50 Aboriginal languages, reports said.
In her written response to Robert-Falcon Ouellette, Manitoba Liberal MP’s demand for yearly details about the number of fires, deaths and injuries including details about funds on fire prevention on reserves, Bennett said that 2010 was the last year in which fire statistics were collected.
She added, “A decision was taken to stop collecting data on fire incidents on reserve in order to reduce the reporting burden on First Nations.”
“Changes were made to the reporting cycle” in 2011, “which included eliminating the tool by which First Nations reported this information.”
Bennett also said that due to the time taken for the new policy to be operative, some communities may have submitted data up to 2013. But that information “was neither analyzed nor published and it is incomplete,” Bennett said.
Indigenous Affairs provides $27 million a year for fire protection services, including fire prevention and fire suppression, she added.
Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) supports Aboriginal peoples (First Nations, Inuit and Métis) and Northerners in their efforts to improve social well-being and develop healthier, more sustainable communities.
There have been many reports of unreliable data about fire-related deaths in aboriginal communities.
Earlier this year, a fire on northern Ontario’s remote Pikangikum First Nation left nine people dead, including a five-month-old baby. Ontario Regional Chief Isadore Day blamed “Third World” living conditions for that tragedy.
According to an internal federal government report obtained earlier this year the First Nations residents were 10 times more likely to die in a house fire than people living off reserve. The 2011 report also said that the fire rates for First Nations were 2.4 times higher than for the rest of Canada.
Insurance coverage for First Nations almost half across Canada had “little to no fire protection,” while many relied on poorly trained volunteer firefighters, said reports.
(Reporting by Asha Bajaj)