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For immediate release
May 28, 2021
“No one chooses to be homeless, it’s not about race, it can happen to anyone. And when it happens, you try to help, you don’t obstruct and undermine, and then complain that it’s someone else’s problem,” said SCTC Grand Chief Elwood Zastre, in response to recent controversial remarks of The Pas Mayor, Herb Jacques.
On May 20, 2021, Jacques told CJAR 1240 radio, “In the event that these persons are First Nations, and they all come from a home community… So where are the Chiefs, why aren’t you taking care of your folks? Why aren’t you helping us? Why aren’t you helping us take care of your folks?”
Jacques comments were made in relation to homelessness in The Pas, and in reference to Oscar’s Place, a 10-room homeless shelter which sleeps up to 26 people, open from 8 pm to 8 am daily, maintained by Manitoba Housing, without support from the Town of The Pas. The shelter provides support for both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal homeless persons.
“I don’t think any other town or municipality ever complains that other towns or cities should help them out because they have poor people from somewhere else. Winnipeg doesn’t complain about Brandon not helping it out. It’s racist to single out First Nations this way. The way it should work is that you deal with the people in front of you, not complain that they should be someone else’s problem,” said Grand Chief Elwood Zastre.
Jacques’s statement ignores the efforts SCTC, Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak (MKO), and the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs (AMC) have made to work together to support the homeless shelter in The Pas, including the provision of safety resources and sanitizing supplies, appliances, dishes, pots, pans, sleeping mats, and groceries. The SCTC and AMC have delivered thousands of dollars worth of groceries and MKO recently provided $37,979 in cash.
In February 2021, SCTC and MKO provided financial assistance to establish a day shelter site at Guy Hall, when temperatures were reaching -50 Celsius.
Unfortunately, after only two days, the day shelter was shut down, in part because of efforts by the Town of The Pas. This closure endangered the lives and safety of a number of people experiencing homelessness as they had no shelter during the cold snap. They were forced to look for places to keep warm, including ATM areas, local businesses, and public indoor spaces. During closures due to COVID-19 restrictions, finding a space to stay warm can be nearly impossible.
“The Pas is well-known as a challenging place to live for First Nations people, many of whom have been displaced over many decades from their traditional territories due to hydro-electric development,” shared MKO Grand Chief Garrison Settee. “It’s disturbing to hear the mayor of The Pas encouraging prejudice and misunderstandings of the lived realities of First Nations people. The comments made by the mayor are ill-informed. First Nations leaders absolutely care about our citizens, whether they live on or off reserve. While our leaders were working to ensure people experiencing homelessness had a warm place to stay alive during the frigid weather this past winter, we could have been asking the question—where is the mayor of The Pas? Unfortunately, it was clear that he was completely absent from trying to protect Manitoba citizens from freezing to death. The truth is that we are seeing the Town of the Pas doing nothing to address homelessness. The mayor’s discriminatory comments put us behind on the road to reconciliation and he must do better.”
Report after report reveals that First Nations are the poorest people in Canada, with reserves and communities suffering from extreme underfunding, overcrowding, unemployment, and lack of resources. Many First Nations members are unable to find housing or employment on reserves and are forced to move to other communities.
“The Mayor knows about the financial limits and hardships of our communities. And he’s also aware of how hard we’ve worked and how much we’ve contributed, to support these homeless people. I don’t appreciate these ignorant comments,” concluded Grand Chief Elwood Zastre. “There’s been no contribution from the Mayor except complaints. I am disappointed by his combative approach.”
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For more information:
Melanie Ferris, MKO Communications Officer
Email: [email protected]