Indigenous leaders critical of government housing support after deadly fire
Indigenous leaders in Ontario are slamming the government for not supporting adequate housing on reserves in the wake of a fire that killed five family members from the Oneida Nation of the Thames.
Kurt Antone and his four sons died in a house fire on a reserve near London, Ont., Wednesday morning. During a press conference about the fire, Chief Randall Phillips said the home they died in was old and “basically kindling.”
He added that the Oneida council had applied for government funding to refurbish 50 homes on the reserve in the past, but the application was rejected. Instead, he said, every dollar was sent to northern Indigenous communities where the government felt there was more need.
- Father and 4 children die in house fire on Oneida reserve near London, Ont.
- Fire safety on First Nations a national problem
“It’s not just a northern issue, we have overcrowding here, we have a lack of housing here,” he said of the community of roughly 2,000 people. We’re one of the largest communities in Ontario yet our funding is based on a formula that’s 200 years old.”
An investigation into the cause of the fire is ongoing.
Substandard housing an issue across Ontario
According to a 2011 federal study, people living on a First Nations reserve in Canada are 10 times more likely to die in a house fire than people in the rest of the country. Ontario’s Regional Chief Isadore Day said not much has changed since that report was written.
“What we’ve heard from the federal government is that they’re pretty moot on the issue, because nothing has been done,” Day said. “It’s not that we don’t know what the problem is.”
Day said infrastructure and housing issues can be found in Indigenous communities across the province, not just in the north.
“Right across Ontario, if you look hard enough you will see dilapidated housing,” Day said. “You’ll see substandard infrastructure and you will see poverty.”
Day said underfunding for First Nations is an issue that needs to be addressed. He explained the fierce competition for limited financial resources can sometimes have deadly consequences.
“This is what happens,” said the regional chief, referencing Wednesday’s deadly fire. “We have outdated housing stock. Depleted housing conditions and unsafe conditions for families and people are dying as a result of it.”
“I think the prime minister needs to put his money where his mouth is and stop talking,” Day said. “What is the action? What is the outcome? Let’s start changing the living conditions in our communities and let’s start saving lives.”
Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett said she was “deeply saddened” by the loss of life in the community.
“Our hearts go out to the community during this difficult time,” she said. “I have reached out to the Chief to offer our support. We remain steadfast in our commitment to work with First Nations to ensure the safety of their communities.”
In a statement sent to CBC, David Zimmer, Ontario’s Minister of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation, said the provincial government knows stable housing is important, but he could not comment further until the investigation by the Fire Marshal is complete.
“Our thoughts are with the victims and their friends and family,” he wrote. “While the cause of the fire is still under investigation, we continue to be in contact with Chief Randy Phillips and the community to see how we can be of assistance.”
Read original article: