Here are articles about the state of emergency declared after the demolition of the school in 2009. Just 4 months later the second was called.
Attawapiskat declares state of emergency
By Chelsey Romain and Christina Spencer, The Daily Press
Mar 25 2009
Residents of the remote First Nation community of Attawapiskat has said enough is enough and has declared a state of emergency.
Community officials, along with the local education authority issued a release late Tuesday night stating both the elementary and high school have been closed until further notice.
In recent weeks, the building that used to house the J.R. Nakogee Elementary School was torn down. It was during the demolition that members of the community allegedly began smelling a strong odor of fuel.
“They are in the final stages of the demolition and are taking the debris out of the community,” said Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Hall. “But some of it is being disposed of at the local dump site.”
Hall said that once the building was torn down, the basement was exposed and that’s when nearby residents began smelling the gas fumes.
The old school became contaminated following a diesel spill in 1979. Later portables were erected to act as a school for the elementary grades.
According to the release, the dumping site is located just four kilometres west of the city, five kilometres south of the community’s water intake site. Both the high school and the portables are a mere five to 10 feet away.
Community deserves aid
By CHELSEY ROMAIN, THE DAILY PRESS
Mar 28 2009
As the community of Attawapiskat continues its state of emergency, MP Charlie Angus (NDP -- Timmins-James Bay) said he doesn't think the country's Indian and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) appreciates the severity of the situation.
"Indian Affairs just don't seem to understand we're dealing with children on a school site," Angus told The Daily Press. "How can you leave that contamination exposed and expect kids to walk through the grounds."
Angus' comments come just days after the community decided to declare a state of emergency and close both its elementary and secondary schools.
According to Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Hall, the recent demolition of the former elementary school building released toxic fumes, triggering headaches for residents.
Elementary-aged students have been attending school in portables since a fuel leak caused the school grounds to be contaminated in 1979.
"This isn't a coverup or allegations. We're talking about the health and safety of children," Angus said. "This shouldn't be taken as a slight when they simply have to deal with their obligation."
Following the announcement of the school closures, Minister of Indian and Northern Affairs Canada Chuck Strahl responded by saying he was puzzled and surprised by the community's decision. He said Health Canada has been in the community testing the air quality, which has been deemed fine.
"This is a bit of a surprise to everyone given that it all seemed to be going according to plan," Strahl said, adding he wasn't aware of any health issues.
Strahl said there is remediation work that will be necessary on the soil, but that has always been part of the plan. He said the problem is that it can't start until the ground is thawed out.
"That's been clear from the beginning," he said. "To remediate the soil involves aerating it and a bunch of things that can't be done while it's frozen."
Angus said the Attawapiskat site is probably one of the most toxic of its kind in Ontario and children were having to go to school right on top of it.
Angus said he doesn't think it's outrageous for residents to say they don't have much faith in the ministry.
"The school acted as a cap over the worst of the damage," he said. "Now, they've exposed a gaping wound right before the rain and floods come."
Had the ministry negotiated plans for a new school on the other side of town prior to the demolition, Angus said the situation could have been avoided.
Strahl said the ministry works with First Nation communities to prioritize spending, based first on health and safety issues. He said while Attawapiskat wants and needs a new school, there are other situations worse than theirs.
"We need to make sure the community has access to an independent expertise to advise them and reassure families that the children are safe," said Angus. "That's what the people want in any community and I don't understand why that can't happen in Attawapiskat.
"Indian Affairs cannot be left up to their own devices."
Angus said he has raised these concerns with Strahl in the past and every time the minister has taken them as a personal slight. Angus said this is not the case.
"They just seem to find it outrageous that these families would be upset that their children should have to walk over toxic waste," he said, adding that he hopes the ministry will rise to the occasion.
First Nations: Federal representatives scheduled to meet in Attawapiskat today.