Wednesday, December 21, 2005

More toxic policy

The public outcry over Kashechewan may have at least drawn some attention to the issues facing First Nations reserves, even if it's unclear just how many of the problems facing even Kashechewan have been dealt with. But the Globe and Mail points out that there's an awfully long way to go on one reserve in Manitoba:
Pukatawagan's woes date back to the 1950s, when Manitoba Hydro established a diesel generating station to heat the nursing clinic, the school and the nunnery where missionaries lived.

The tanks and fuel lines were poorly installed and leaked thousands of litres of diesel into the ground. For 30 years, the spill was not discovered, while locals say members of the community grew sicker and sicker...

After the spill was found in 1989, the band office and the school were evacuated and closed. Dozens of houses were condemned because fuel had seeped into their soil...

An independent Edmonton company carried out an environmental study in 2000 for the band and Indian Affairs.

The study found about $18-million was required for a full cleanup. Band leaders say Indian Affairs provided less than a quarter of that amount...

The houses condemned and knocked down because of the fuel spill have not been replaced, leaving only 299 residences for 2,600 people, with an average of nearly nine occupants per house.
Unlike the situation in some of the other reserves, there isn't even any argument at Pukatawagan as to who's responsible, since the federal government took a payment from Manitoba Hydro in 1996 in exchange for its agreement to clean up the spill. But DIAND's all-too-typical response has been to promise less money than needed to solve the core problem, dispense less money than promised, and fail completely to pay attention to the reserve's interim needs. As a result, over half of the condemned houses on the reserve are still inhabited for lack of any other available housing.

Once again, it may take the glare of media exposure to induce any change at all. Hopefully the Pukatawagan story will likewise result in greater public attention to the conditions on reserves...and maybe cause DIAND to start dealing with such problems on its own before they make the national headlines.

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