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Third world living conditions for First Nations should be election issue: Chief


October 6, 2011
By Chinta Puxley/Canadian Press

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October 6, 2011, Winnipeg – One of Manitoba's aboriginal leaders says the lack of
clean, running water and the third-world living conditions of
Manitoba's First Nations should be a central issue in the provincial
election.

Grand Chief David Harper, who represents the province's northern
First Nations, said many communities in the northeast have been
neglected for years.

"Here we are sitting in northeastern Manitoba and it's in a
third world state,'' he said in a recent interview. "There is a
lack of running water, no running water. This coming winter, some
kids and elders in that area, will not have any clean drinking
water. Yet every flu season, it seems to happen that people are
dying."

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But as the province prepares to go to the polls Tuesday, very
little has been done to woo First Nation voters. Very few political
leaders have ventured into predominantly First Nation northern
ridings and none have focused heavily on aboriginal policies.

Some leaders have said they are "championing'' aboriginal issues
but Harper hasn't seen that yet.

"If you are championing the issue and you still have third-world
living conditions in northern Manitoba, you can't say (you are)
championing the issue," said Harper, grand chief of the Manitoba
Keewatinowi Okimakanak.

NDP Premier Greg Selinger just returned from campaigning in St.
Teresa Point, a remote fly-in First Nation whose living conditions
were highlighted during the H1N1 flu outbreak in 2009.

While there, he said he visited a family living in a home with no
running water. Given reserves are Ottawa's responsibility, Selinger
said there is only so much the province can do.

"It is, in many cases, unacceptable living conditions and we
have to continually work to get that done,'' Selinger said." The
federal government has to take the responsibility for that. We can't
use that as an excuse. We have to push them and, at the same time,
work with those communities to get things done."

The NDP is promising to bolster access to health care for remote
aboriginal communities, Selinger said. The province spends a large
amount of money flying people out of their communities to larger
urban centres for medical treatment. Selinger said that doesn't make
sense, either for the patient or the province's pocketbook.

The NDP is also building an all-season road in northeastern
Manitoba to make remote, fly-in communities more accessible and has
brought post-secondary training closer to home so people can learn
trades, Selinger said.

"Train people to know how to do the work necessary to have
running water and toilets in homes,'' he said. "When you have
skilled people, it's so much easier to do the installations because
the people are available right in the community to do it."

Conservative Leader Hugh McFadyen said his party would focus on
improving the lot of First Nation communities thorough economic
development opportunities. Many of the social problems on reserves,
like poverty, stem from unemployment, he said.

"We think that if we can generate more opportunities for work
and economic development, that begins to provide some of the wealth
necessary to improve health standards and housing and other areas
which are really not acceptable," McFadyen said.

A Conservative government would also look at how non-aboriginal
towns could share their water treatment plants and infrastructure
with neighbouring reserves, he added.

Still, some aboriginal leaders say many First Nations voters feel
estranged from the provincial political process and this election
may not change that.

Grand Chief Derek Nepinak, head of the Assembly of Manitoba
Chiefs, said treaty people are used to dealing primarily with the
federal government.

"The provincial process or the provincial election hasn't always
been that urgent of a matter for us to create a groundswell of
involvement," he said. "There is also the consideration that many
of our people, particularly the ones who work from treaty-based
principles, do not consider themselves to be Manitobans."