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 #Ottawapiskat Twitter Hashtag
NEWS RELEASE · 20th January 2013
Doug Cuthand, Star Pheonix
The spotlight has been on the First Nations lately, and the government has leaked the Attawapiskat audit that reveals a band administration with long-term difficulties.

But the tables were turned in the social media when #Ottawapiskat was created, comparing the operations of the federal government in Ottawa to those of a First Nation.

These days in Ottawa, opposition groups are attacked, and their leaders become victims of character assassination. So it would seem that turnabout is fair play.

What if Parliament was a band council, and Ottawa was one big band office? The comparison reveals a dysfunctional, debt-riddled government that should be placed under third-party management.

The Ottawapiskat First Nation is led by an autocratic leader who, when things get too hot, has been known to shut down the band office through a process known as prorogation. He and his staff have a small group of cronies, known as the cabinet, and a group of non-elected elders, known as the Senate. Together, this oligarchy rules the reserve.

They avoid the media unless they can control the message. If they break the law they simply move on and ignore any criticism.

Band council meetings are fractious and filled with rancour. The chief has a majority of supporters, so he can afford to treat the council with contempt and disrespect.

This group operates as if it is perpetually running for office. Any opposition is quickly shouted down, and those involved are belittled and demonized.

They also reward their friends, and throw money around to buy support.

One band councillor hosted a gathering of world leaders in his backyard, and received a "legacy fund" of $50 million.

He squandered the money on gazebos, sidewalk upgrades and other frills that weren't even located close to the gathering. He was severely criticized, but largely ignored the outpouring of righteous indignation.

The chief really isn't a good judge of character. He once appointed a 30-something smartalec to the council of elders. This shallow individual had no credibility and proved to be nothing more than a perennial embarrassment.

Sometimes things get too ridiculous even for this group, and remedial action is required. One band councillor went to a conference and spent foolishly.

Among her travel claims was a receipt for a $16 glass of orange juice. The opposition found out and a major scandal ensued. The chief met with her and told her to either jump or get pushed. She jumped.

The chief really doesn't care who he throws under the bus, as long as he retains tight control.

The cost of a $16 orange juice may seem like pocket change compared to the ever-increasing cost of fighter jets that cost billions, but it's something ordinary people could get their minds around, rather than the stratospheric costs of fighter jets. (No pun intended.)

As First Nations go, the overspending by the Ottawapiskat First Nation is the worst in the country.

When a First Nation exceeds its annual budget by eight per cent or if its accumulated debt exceeds 25 per cent of its annual income, the government can place it under third party management.

Somehow Ottawapiskat regularly breaks the rules and gets away with it.

For the fiscal year 2011-12, the deficit was $26.2 billion or about 13 per cent of the nation's annual income.

In the two previous years the deficits were $33.4 billion and $55.6 billion - amounts that grossly exceed the rules.

Over the years, Ottawapiskat has accumulated a debt of about $600 billion. The debt to operating revenue ratio is 236 per cent.

You'd think this would place the band in third-party management, but somehow the chief just continues to kick the problem down the road for the next council to worry about.

Of course, gift-giving plays a large role in the chief and councillors' constant quest to retain power and reward their friends.

They give out large cheques (large in terms of physical dimensions, for photo ops) that contain their tribal logo.

However, minorities, environmentalists and other groups perceived to be critical receive no gifts and, in fact, have their funding cut back.

In the past year, Ottawapiskat politicians have also doubled their public relations budget so that they can increase their ability to pat themselves on the back.

While they spend foolishly and reward their friends, one million of their band members continue to use food banks.

So on and on it goes. Cronies are rewarded, ideology trumps logic, and revenge and spite masquerade as politics. Ottawapiskat is a First Nation badly in need of reform.

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