Canadian authorities are evacuating children plagued in sores and rashes from Kashechewan First Nation in remote northern Ontario in what has been declared a health emergency.
The emergency, according to National Democratic Party (NDP) indigenous affairs critic Charlie Angus, has been going on for years but is only now being paid attention to thanks to photos posted on social media over the weekend.
“The pictures of those children were so shocking and so heartbreaking that it woke Canadians up across the country,” Angus said in a March 21 conference call address the issue, according to the Canadian Press. “They were saying, ‘what the hell is happening in our country that children are getting sick like this?’ These children really are the face of a much larger systemic crisis that is facing northern First Nation communities.”
Three children had been evacuated from the community as of Monday and another 13 were scheduled to be taken out for evaluation and treatment on Tuesday. Federal health officials said they have already ruled out the water as a source of the skin ailments.
“In fact, the water has been tested as recently as last Tuesday and we know that it meets all of the appropriate standards for safety and drinking water and water to be used for other purposes,” said Health Minister Jane Philpott to reporters in Ottawa on Monday, according to the Canadian Press. She added that all children needing care were being attended to.
The health issues are not new, and the jarring photos provide just a small glimpse into the atrocious conditions prevalent on some reserves. They were highlighted in an emergency health declaration issued by Nishnawbe Aski Nation (NAN) Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler on February 24.
The chronic failure of the health care system for First Nations in the Sioux Look region and across NAN territory has left our communities in a state of crisis,” Fiddler said in a statement. “Children are dying and lives are at risk. The fact that many First Nations still lack access to even the most basic health services is nothing short of a national tragedy. The many urgent and long-standing health issues that plague our communities are well-documented and the time for action is now. We are calling on all levels of government to commit to a plan of action to begin to address this crisis.”
Philpott echoed these concerns outside the House of Commons on March 21 and said that she and officials in the recently elected government headed by Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was working to address those and other issues facing Indigenous Peoples in Canada.
“The health conditions that we are seeing in First Nations communities like Kashechewan and the very serious and concerning gaps in health outcomes are not new, unfortunately,” Philpott said, according to the Canadian Press. “It is a sad reality. It is a reality that we are facing front on, that I am working with my officials in Health Canada to address.”