The 2009 Michener Award finalists talk about their award winning stories and the people who helped make them happen – Michener Awards Ceremony, May 27, 2010
In February of 2009, a weeklong series by the Times Colonist revealed how government policies, overcrowding, poor construction and a lack of oversight have contributed to the deplorable conditions of First Nations housing on Vancouver Island. Following the publication of the articles, the federal government pledged $50 million for native housing. British Columbia Premier Gordon Campbell announced that the province would take action to connect reserves with off-reserve water and sewage systems.
Your Excellencies, Madame Chief Justice, Ladies and Gentlemen.
Thank you, it’s a great honour to be here and to be included in such impressive company. And congratulations to all the other nominees for all their fine work.
Our project began in late 2008 when a small First Nations band on the northern tip of Vancouver Island blamed the terrible housing conditions on their reserve for a rash of pre-natal deaths and a number of child removals by social workers.
Judith Lavoie and I decided to take a deeper look at state of First Nations housing on the island and across B.C. and over the course of a month in early 2009, we travelled to different reserves, talking to the people who lived there, the people who built the homes and the people who administered them. Our series exposed as host of problems, including overcrowding, shoddy construction and threats to the health of aboriginal people, particularly children.
We also highlighted the confusing maze of government regulations that make it difficult to acquire financing and build housing on reserves. And we showed that Nations also bear some of the responsibility for housing problems, due to poor governance and a lack of accountability on reserves. As powerful as those findings were, however, it was the pictures by Times Colonist photographers Debra Brash, Adrian Lam, Darren Stone and Bruce Stotesbury that clearly showed our readers the terrible conditions in which many First Nations people live.
The series generated a great deal of discussion and B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell urged immediate action to deal with the problems outlined in our series. Although reserve housing is a federal issue, Campbell and his Aboriginal Relations Minister Mike de Jong promised that the province would play a major role in cutting through red tape and acting on measures such as connecting reserves with off-reserve water and sewage systems.
The provincial health officer also endorsed the series’ findings in his annual report. He said the sorry state of First Nations housing undermines the health of aboriginal people and he pointed to the solutions put forth by our series as a place to start by streamlined government bureaucracy, creating independent band housing committees, and stronger accountability measures for contractors.
Finally, a few weeks after our series, the federal government pledged $50 million for native housing. After the announcement, Shawn Atleo, who is now chief of the Assembly of First Nations, cited the Times Colonist series for exposing the terrible state of native housing, including that on his home reserve. “You have played a very important role in raising public consciousness,” Atleo said.
We hope we have. One series of stories can’t fix a problem like this but Judith continues to pursue these same issues every day as our aboriginal affairs reporter.
Thanks for the honour of being here.
Michener Awards Ceremony
May 27, 2010