The Attawapiskat Crisis: What Should Be Done?
Canada's First Nations issues in the spotlight
The government of Canada's relations with the First Nation's throughout history has been no where near perfect for sure, and the opinion on what must be done to address this has been all across the spectrum of ideas of reformation and reconstruction. This is not me addressing this in particular however: this is me addressing the current crisis of the Attawapiskat First Nations Reserve in northern Ontario.
The Attawapiskat Crisis
It was a month ago in October that the Attawapiskat First Nations Reserve issued a state of emergency as winter approached and many of their inhabitants were living in mouldy tents, disrepaired houses and trailers and other unbearable living conditions. The Red Cross answered the call and intervened with assisting warm tenting and sleeping bags as well as other provisions for the reserve.
When the Canadian government was asked to answer for the situation, they answered that over $90 million had been given to the First Nations Reserve in the past five years. The Canadian government also placed the reserve under third-party management as they sent an official to Attawapiskat to control the funding that was being given to the reserve as well as to investigate how the funds sent before were spent. When independent consultant Jacques Marion arrived however, he was forced to leave by the Attawapiskat Band Council.
Since then the Attawapiskat Crisis has become a rallying point for changes to due with First Nations across Canada, but there are still questions and arguments over the current predicament in Attawapiskat.
Respond to the crisis
Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence is calling on the government to stop worrying about the finances and to help her people, and I wholeheartedly agree with the sentiment. Failure to act will result in the deaths and starvation of hundreds of First Nations, something which we as Canadians are obligated to not allow to happen. It is the responsibility of the government to the people, many who had no control over the spending which is being questioned right now. To merely say that it is what they deserve because of the way their leaders distributed and used the money is irresponsible and not humane.
What is not being reached on most of the media due to the crisis now evolving more into a debate on First Nations across Canada, however, is that the government has responded to the crisis and are acting. The Canadian Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Duncan said:
“When requests from the community were received we took immediate action. Within 24 hours of receiving an urgent funding proposal from the community, funding was immediately approved to address critical housing repairs. Supplies have also been ordered so that multiple families will have permanent homes shortly.”
The Attawapiskat funding
When the Attawapiskat Crisis reached government in Ottawa, the first question that was asked: what happened to the $90 million which the government had been sending to the reserve over the last five years? Chief Theresa Spence has asked that the focus be on the crisis and not on the finances, but the third-party management sent to Attawapiskat was told to leave and work with the funding outside of the reserve. This has raised many questions for many Canadians, myself included. While I do agree that the crisis must be answered, at the same time I'm also wondering myself why that funding did not stop this crisis from happening.
Attawapiskat facts & questions
When asked about the the funding, Chief Theresa Spence said:
“Housing and minor capital is a mere 6.5% ($6-million over six years) of the $94-million received over the six-year period…. The majority of these funds go to support the greater economy of Northern Ontario and Canada for goods, materials, service, contractors, legal advice and auditing services.”
Charlie Angus, the New Democrat MP does answer this question.
"The fact is, if you are paid in Attawapiskat, for example, the per-capita spending is about one-half of what it is on a non-native Canadian," Angus told CTV News.
"But meanwhile, you have to do all your infrastructure, all your education, all your health services. Things start to fall apart pretty quick and that's what's happened in Attawapiskat, it's happened in Pikangikum, it's happened in Kashechewan, it's happened in Fort Albany, this is happening across northern Canada."
Why third-party management
Even with the explanation however, I cannot disagree with the third-party management. Why? Because it isn't about Chief Spence answering to the government, its about answering to the tax payers. While some of the details to the budgets have been revealed, there are still many questions left unanswered. With the funding previously provided for Spence and the Band Council to control not averting the situation, it cannot be helped that if the $60 million which is being asked for by Spence to cure the crisis is accepted that it is trusted to someone else, not because of any personal or racial discrimination against Spence or the council, but because their credibility cannot be verified until it is too late for the support.