A northern Anishininew family from Garden Hill First Nation, Man., could be spending Christmas living in an old bus after their trailer burned down last week, leaving 17 people who had lived there with almost nothing.
Ricky Knott, who was at work as a mechanic when the fire broke out, says he’s grateful everyone in the trailer made it out safely, but adds it was a scary time.
“Some of the kids were just running to the bus with their shorts, and the baby was wrapped in a blanket right away and taken to the bus,” Knott said.
The families managed to grab a few things out of the trailer but almost everything they had, including most of their Christmas gifts, are gone.
Knott says his family and his father have to take turns sleeping in the bus, which is heated by a fire in an oil drum, because there isn’t enough room for everyone to sleep at the same time.
“The third night was too cold — it was like walking into a walk-in freezer, where there is tin all over and outside is really cold and you can feel that tin freezing cold inside,” Knott said, adding he has to keep a fire going to keep the bus warm though he knows doing so is not safe.
Knott’s brother, who also lived in the trailer along with his family of eight, has managed to find a temporary place to live , but both families are essentially homeless in their First Nation.
You know we’re in a rich country called Canada, and to see these families living like this in overcrowded houses is a very sad thing to see in my community.– Charles Knott, chief of Garden Hill First Nation
“I’m very worried,” Knott said. “I might as well move out of the country and come back as a refugee to get better housing.”
Charles Knott, the chief of Garden Hill First Nation and Ricky Knott’s uncle, says they’re trying to find the displaced families other places to live, but says his community is in a housing crisis that requires hundreds of new homes to start meeting the needs in his reserve alone.
“It’s very sad to see what our community is going through,” the chief said. “You know we’re in a rich country called Canada and to see these families living like this in overcrowded houses is a very sad thing to see in my community.”
Knott says most of the daily calls he receives as chief have to do with a housing issue. He says hundreds of new houses are needed to meet the needs in Garden Hill.
Chief Knott says the crisis is putting his people’s lives in danger and that the government needs to provide resources immediately to address the housing needs.
NDP MP Niki Ashton whose Churchill-Keewatinook Aski riding includes Garden Hill, agrees.
“It is not acceptable that in a country as wealthy as Canada that Third World living conditions like this still persist … We need to see the federal government address this right away,” Ashton said.
To keep costs down for housing material and other supplies, the products would have be delivered using the winter road that connects the community with urban centres for a few weeks of the year during the winter season.
In an email response, the federal government acknowledges the longstanding housing gaps that exist in First Nations, and says it has made significant investments on the matter but that much more is needed.
In the meantime, relatives of the Knott families are doing what they can to help and have launched an on-line fundraising effort that so far has raised about $1,000 for the family.
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