Update on Cat Lake funding announced by Indigenous Services Minister Seamus O’Regan

Timmins-James Bay MP Charlie Angus (red jacket, centre) visited several homes in Cat Lake First Nation to get a first -hand look at the problem of mould and how it was affecting the health of residents. (Photo Credit: Raul Rincon)

The health care crisis at Cat Lake First Nation, north of Sioux Lookout, Ontario is not what federal  Indigenous Services Minister Seamus O’Regan expected when he was named to that portfolio just a few a few months ago on January 14, 2019.

The Cat Lake crisis was thrust into the public eye just days later when the leadership in that community declared a housing emergency, saying the poor living conditions were contributing to significant illnesses and infections, especially among children.

The optics were not good. Television coverage showed pictures of youngsters covered with sores on their arms, hands and feet.  Black mould found in several homes was cited as the problem. Community leaders were speaking out, calling for some sort of government intervention.  Well-known Timmins – James Bay MP Charlie Angus, the NDP critic for Indigenous and Northern affairs visited Cat Lake to see the problems first hand.

Angus brought the issue to the House of Commons Question Period.  In addressing the prime minister, Angus demanded answers for the Cat Lake housing conditions that he described as a national disgrace.

Since then, and following highly-publicized consultations, minister  O’Regan announced financial commitments of more than $12-million to address the housing and health challenges at that First Nation.

“Supporting the health and safety of the people of Cat Lake is our first priority,” he said in a news release.
O’Regan said he and other federal officials met with Chief Matthew Keewaykapow of Cat Lake First Nation in Thunder Bay in February along with other Indigenous leaders and reached an agreement on steps that needed to be taken, This included such things as 15 new housing units, repairs to 21 existing homes, and the delivery of an additional 10 portable housing units.

“A medical assessment is currently underway in the community.  On February 14, a pediatric respirology doctor was in Cat Lake First Nation to conduct a medical assessment and treat individuals identified by the community,” said O’Regan.

“From February 17-20, an infectious disease specialist was in the community to further assess and treat patients as appropriate. We will be reviewing the results of the medical assessment when they are available, on an urgent basis. Indigenous Services Canada has also increased the nursing staff in the community nursing station to provide additional supports,” his statement continued.
In March, O’Regan released another statement about the signing of the final Memorandum of Agreement with Cat Lake First Nation:

“Earlier today, Chief Keewaykapow, the councilors of Cat Lake First Nation, representatives from Windigo First Nations Council and I signed the final Memorandum of Agreement, which formalizes the commitments and plans laid out in the Interim Framework Agreement signed on February 21, 2019.

“All parties had hoped to sign the agreement in the community of Cat Lake today; however, both Chief Keewaykapow and I were unable to fly out of Sioux Lookout and Thunder Bay respectively due to poor weather conditions.  The document was signed by all parties as we met by videoconference.”

The final Memorandum of Agreement provides updated funding numbers based on actual costs and represents an investment of up to $12.8 million. It includes:

-$5 million to support the construction of 15 new housing units;

-$2.1 million to support repairs and renovations of 21 existing housing units;

-$3.1 million in support of 10 new modular housing units;

-$200,000 for the community’s new temporary warehouse structure;

Approximately $2.4 million in support of other associated costs; including site surveying, servicing and inspections; costs associated with transporting materials on the winter road; and hiring a Professional Project Manager, Financial Manager, and Maintenance Manager – Housing.

Filed in: First Nations, News

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