Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Native issues off the radar

Candidates questioned on how they would help

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St. Theresa Point resident Kevin Taylor isn't getting much help from federal politicians on his top-two problems -- the lack of running water in his house and the shortage of health and social services for people like him with chronic ailments.

What he might get, though, is a new slop bucket.

Last week, Indian and Northern Affairs Canada delivered 200 buckets, topped by toilet seats, to Taylor's neighbours in nearby Garden Hill First Nation. Aboriginal leaders say hundreds more slop buckets have been delivered to other remote reserves.

That gift highlights slow progress on permanent water and sewer solutions and the lack of attention aboriginal issues receive on the national campaign trail.

"The two biggest issues of water and health are not even on the radar," said Northern Grand Chief David Harper of Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak.

Harper said Taylor's case is a tragic example. Taylor, who has cerebral palsy and can't walk, must often be carried to the outhouse by his father and has no access to services like vocational training, home care or physiotherapy on his reserve. He'd be more likely to get those services if he lived off reserve and was the responsibility of the provincial government.

Taylor's family has filed a complaint with the Canadian Human Rights Commission, alleging the disparity in services on and off reserve amounts to discrimination.

While they wait on their formal complaint, Taylor's mother, Alice, hopes party leaders and federal candidates in their riding of Churchill offer some creative ways to bridge the gap in services.

NDP candidate Niki Ashton says social and health services on many remote reserves are getting worse, not better.

She said her party would lift the cap that limits annual funding increases to First Nations to two per cent. And she said she will continue to lobby for clean drinking water and indoor plumbing for thousands of northern residents who don't have either.

Ashton was in Garden Hill last week when the slop pails were delivered.

"This is the response INAC deems appropriate," said Ashton. "What's going on here isn't just inadequate, it's disgusting."

Liberal candidate and former MKO grand chief Sydney Garrioch said his party has been clear that sewer and water infrastructure will be built on reserves that need it.

"It is very devastating to see in homes I visit, the people who are elderly, the handicapped, the children, all who have no proper water and sewage systems," said Garrioch. "To live in these conditions is unacceptable."

Green party candidate Alberteen Spence said her party would cancel corporate tax cuts and use that money to reinvest in housing, clean water and education.

Despite several attempts in recent days, Tory candidate Wally Daudrich did not respond to requests for comment.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 21, 2011 A10

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