Attawapiskat State of Emergency - A Letter to Jack Harris, MP

Below is a letter I wrote to my Member of Parliament, Jack Harris, regarding a troubling series of articles pointed out by my friend.

22 November 2011

Dear Mr. Harris,

I realize that you likely do not remember me, since you speak to so many people each year. My name is Zachery Hynes, and we spoke briefly in the University Centre during a visit you made to the Memorial University campus shortly before the past election, largely on issues related to the war in Afghanistan. I was uncertain about which candidate I would support; after our conversation I did in fact vote for you.

My friend forwarded me this article from the Huffington Post, written by one of your colleagues within the NDP, Charlie Angus. It details the situation that the Attawapiskat First Nation is dealing with currently, one of dangerously low temperatures and poor living conditions. Tent-like and temporary dwellings seem to be the normal home for these families, and sanitation seems to be a very significant issue as a result. Three weeks ago, the Attawapiskat leaders declared a state of emergency, saying that lives are being put at risk. As I understand it, no movement has been made by the federal government to address these issues within those three weeks, even though this is a clearly emergent issue. I have also included an Ottawa Citizen article related to the declaration of a state of emergency, which places the date at 28 October 2011.

As a medical student, these issues of poor sanitation and extreme cold are very concerning to me. They remind me of situations I have often spoken about with Médecins Sans Frontières personnel and those involved with other aid organizations, in regard to refugee camps in Africa. There, however, sewage is highly controlled, with policies and best practices in place to manage the spread of sewage-related diseases. This seems not to be the case in this Canadian community. Given the issues detailed in these newspapers, I believe I would prefer to live in one of those camps than in the situation that our fellow Canadians find themselves here.

I understand from Mr. Angus's blog, also attached, that these issues were raised in Question Period yesterday, 21 November 2011. I apologize if I have simply repeated details with which you were already familiar. I know you find yourself in a very busy position, and my letter is somewhat lengthy. However, I could not in good conscience leave this issue unmentioned, and I would hate to give the impression that I had not even attempted a cursory investigation into the relevant facts.

As a very proud Canadian, Mr. Harris, I was horrified to see injustice on such a grand scale displayed within our borders. The people of the Attawapiskat First Nation have clearly been forgotten for too long by our government, and I expect a strong response from our Members of Parliament on this issue, now that it has been publicly identified.

I have posted a copy of this letter to my website, for the reference of my friends and colleagues with whom I have shared my concerns. A link to that post is also included below.

Zachery Hynes