THUNDER BAY -- Ontario’s regional chief says a new report calling for better living standards in First Nations affirms that basic human rights are not being met in the communities.
“The (United Nations) declaration on indigenous peoples states there has to be dignity, respect for all human beings. When there is a lack of quality health care and living that violates that,” said Stan Beardy.
“In most of the First Nation communities, we’re talking about third world conditions.”
The First Nations Food, Nutrition and Environment Study (FNFNES) was released earlier this week and outlined the need for an improvement in health standards for First Nations, particularly in increasing access to safe and healthy food.
The study focused on the diets of residents of 18 First Nations communities in Ontario from 2011 to 2012.
More than half of the northern communities involved in the study reported food insecurity because of the high cost of food. Groceries for a family of four in Northern Ontario costs about $344 per week. In southern Ontario, it would cost an average family about $175 per week for food.
Beardy said in a community like Muskrat Dam First Nation, milk is four times more expensive than in a grocery store in Thunder Bay.
“What ends up happening is what goes up north in those community stores is mainly junk food, a lot of pop and chips. Those are not healthy for anybody. Because of fixed incomes, in most cases that’s all the family can afford is junk food,” he said.
There was also lead found in deer and mercury in predatory fish like walleye, traditional food staples in many First Nations people’s diets.
The chief said the mercury issue in the English River by Grassy Narrows First Nation is an example of how fish and animal habitats have been destroyed.
“Those people’s way of life was completely destroyed by the forestry operations. Mercury 50 years later is very much present,” he said, adding the people of Grassy Narrows depend on fishing and hunting.
The study also states that of the 18 communities that took part, seven of them were under a boil water advisory during the time the study was being conducted.
There are 62 First Nations in Ontario currently under a boil water advisory.