Good afternoon, everyone. Thank you for this opportunity to appear before you to talk about these very important issues.
I want to start off by acknowledging that we are on unceded territory of the Algonquin people. I thank the leadership and the members of that nation for welcoming us into their territory.
My name is Alvin Fiddler. I'm the grand chief for the Nishnawbe Aski Nation. The Nishnawbe Aski Nation represents 49 first nations in northeastern and northwestern Ontario, on Treaty No. 9 and part of Treaty No. 5 land.
Loss of lives to house fires is something that has hit us hard during the course of our history. I want to mention one community very quickly, which is Mishkeegogamang. Since 1980 they've recorded over 30 lives lost to house fires, and we hear about other tragic incidents that have occurred in our territory over the course of NAN's existence.
One of the things that really shook us up was what happened in Pigangkum in March 2016 in one house fire. In that one tragic event, nine lives were lost. The youngest victim in that house fire was named Amber Strang. Amber was just five months old. Three generations of one family were lost in that one tragic event.
About a month and a half later, our chiefs from NAN gathered in Timmins and they passed a motion directing the NAN executive to launch a campaign named in Amber's memory, Amber's Fire Safety Campaign. They were very direct with us in terms of what they wanted to see. They wanted to see some immediate things happen in the communities to protect our families from house fires.
One of the things they told us to do was to install a smoke detector and a carbon monoxide detector in every home in the NAN territory. They said to go to every home to ensure—because many of our homes are still heated by wood stoves—that the wood stoves are clean, that they're working properly, that the chimneys are clean, and that there's proper shielding around the walls where the wood stoves are located.
They also identified some long-term issues that they wanted us to work on. These included things like proper infrastructure to ensure that our communities have fire hydrants and that they have access to water in the event of a fire. They wanted us to look at building garages to have fire trucks, and to have trained personnel, volunteers on the ground, who could do this work.
I'm here today with Mike McKay. Mike is our infrastructure director at the Nishnawbe Aski Nation. Also with me is one of our partners, Chief John Hay from the Thunder Bay Fire Department.
We recognized when we began this work that we needed partners. We cannot do this by ourselves. We need municipalities, and I'm thankful for John's leadership and help. We need the federal government. We need Ontario to make this a sustainable and comprehensive campaign. It has to be a permanent campaign. It cannot be just a one-year, two-year, or three-year campaign. It has to be permanent, because the threats are there every day in our communities because of the way our houses are built, because of the way they're heated, and because of the general living conditions in our communities.
The risks are high and we see that in the stats. There are 10 times more lives lost in our communities than in the rest of the country. So the threats are real. The issues that we submitted to you are real.
I wanted to give a few moments for both Mike and John to speak to some of the specifics we are asking you to consider as members of the standing committee. We need your support to make this a sustainable campaign. It has to be a comprehensive one. We need buy-in from all parties. We need support from everyone to ensure this works for our communities. We have a detailed plan. I'm not sure if any other region in the country has that, but we're organized; we're ready. We have the capacity. We will need some help to continue to build our capacity in our communities, but we are ready to roll this out, because it's very important to us.
It's very difficult to go to one of our communities and go to a funeral. I remember when I was in Pikangikum for that. There were nine caskets in the church. The smallest one was Amber's. It's at those moments that you have to say to yourself that something needs to change. We cannot lose any more lives.
The fundamental issue that I find in our communities is the lack of standards, the lack of any type of code for our communities to meet. I was at a meeting just this morning with Minister Ralph Goodale on policing. Again, it's lack of standards. Everything is program-based. These programs are endangering the lives of our communities, and in some cases, killing our community members.
I want to give a few moments to Mike and John.