“Faced with extreme poverty, harsh climate, Attawapiskat reserve cries out for help” – The Canadian Press
I recently had the opportunity to be part of something very humbling, yet rewarding. Having been given an enthusiastic thumbs up from our employer – Pilatus Centre Canada, my colleague John and I put together a Pilatus PC-12 flight bringing much-needed relief supplies to the people affected by the state of emergency in Attawapiskat, Ontario. John has a great deal of experience flying in remote Northern environments, such as this.
The trip came together very quickly and a big thanks goes out to my friend Matt at GlobalMedic for participating. Matt and his team are often some of the first to arrive after natural disasters all around the world (such as Haiti, Pakistan and others) providing necessary emergency assistance. The GM crew were able to source funding to purchase 100 winter coats for the children in Attawapiskat – a much-needed item to help brave the brutal -40 winters.
We left Toronto at 6:30am and flew the 1,049km (652mi) non-stop to Attawapiskat, in the James Bay area.
We arrived on a Pilatus PC-12 generously donated by Pilatus Centre Canada, the Canadian dealer of the world’s leading turboprop aircraft. We landed on the 3,500′ frozen gravel/ice/snow runway with ease. The PC-12 is ideal for emergency relief/support. Today we carried more than 400 pounds of supplies and the six of us who flew up, but we can haul 1,000+ pounds of supplies, food, medical.
Here’s a video I shot on my phone of our landing in Attawapiskat. It was very windy with a strong crosswind on approach:
Wayne, the Executive Director of Attawapiskat First Nation was kind enough to pick us up at the airport and stayed with us all day. He took us around the Reserve to give us an up-close perspective to the situation at hand. My pictures do not do justice to what we saw.
Running water and sewage infrastructure is not available to all residents. Some residents use buckets as toilets, and store these buckets in their living quarters. The water filtration system in place is flawed and apparently uses the wrong chemicals to process the water. Many children have developed rashes or more serious conditions as a result. Residents must fetch potable water from one of two water dispensing stations.
We visited the Northern Store – they even had a KFC. Prices in the store were quite high. Almost entirely attributed to the cost of getting product to them.
The Red Cross arrived a few days previously and were helping where they could. They brought blankets and sleeping bags with them. Pictured below, the Red Cross is meeting with the Emergency Response Coordinators of the First Nation communities and Emergency Management Ontario (EMO).
GlobalMedic was especially helpful in examining the Water Treatment Plant in town to determine a course of action for improving the availability of potable water for all residents.
“A severe housing shortage in the community has forced families to live in tents and unheated trailers, with some without access to running water and electricity. Meanwhile, the reserve’s children go to school in portable classrooms as they’ve waited years for a school to be built to replace the one that needed to be torn down” – The Canadian Press
We were also very fortunate to have an intimate meeting with Chief Theresa Spence who has been outspoken about the situation at hand and the need for help in her community.
This trip was an eye-opening experience. Especially so because we were in Canada – one of the most prosperous countries in the world. The assistance that our First Nations deserve of us does not end in Attawapiskat, but it cannot be overlooked. While the problems at hand are far-reaching and go much further than just poor living conditions, providing the basic right of shelter and clean water can’t be dismissed.
These living conditions are not acceptable – not for a Canadian. Not for anyone.
Help the people now. Assess blame later.
I look forward to returning.