‘Ottawa’ Attawapiskat Chief Expects ‘Historic’ Meeting With Trudeau
Attawapiskat First Nation Chief Bruce Shisheesh says his meeting with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will be “a historic moment for reconciliation.”
Shisheesh planned to bring issues of youth suicide, housing, health and infrastructure to Parliament Hill on Monday afternoon, along with the expectation that Trudeau will offer a “solid commitment” to provide his community with long-term investments to improve the condition of his remote, northern Ontario community.
“Canada has to start somewhere,” Shisheesh said in a weekend interview. “For a long, long time we as First Nations people have been forgotten. That’s what I want to mention to the prime minister: it’s been too long that my people have suffered.”
The meeting between Trudeau and Shisheesh was accepted by the prime minister’s office last month, when the chief reached out after Attawapiskat declared a state of emergency following a slew of suicide attempts in April.
“Suicide is a very difficult issue,” Andrew Koostachin, a counsellor from Attawapiskat. “It’s something that needs to be taken real seriously and try to find a solution.”
Koostachin, 52, lost a close friend to suicide in Attawapiskat when he was 20; his friend was 28. He said he hoped to be in on the meeting with Trudeau but didn’t know whether he’ll be allowed in.
April’s state of emergency declaration wasn’t the first for Attawapiskat; it had declared a state of emergency four times previously over housing, infrastructure and water quality.
Shisheesh said that he hoped the meeting will create open dialogue and ultimately change for his community. He said he wants reconciliation not just between the federal government and Attawapiskat but for all indigenous peoples across Canada.
The Ontario government announced in April that it will invest $2 million in the community, but Shisheesh said it’s time for the federal government to step up. He said he was disappointed by the most recent visit of federal Health Minister Jane Philpott two weeks ago.
“She didn’t make any commitments for our community.”
Shisheesh said he hoped to walk away from Monday’s meeting with tangible commitments.
“It’s been a challenge,” he said. “It’s been difficult, but I’m here to say that Attawapiskat is going to live again.”
The meeting between Shisheesh and Trudeau was scheduled for 4 p.m. Monday in the prime minister’s office.