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Living conditions at Attawaskipat.
NEWS RELEASE · 2nd December 2011
Attawapiskat First Nation
On November 30, 2011, an official acting on behalf of Joanne Wilkinson, Regional Director General for Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada hand delivered to Chief Theresa Spence, a letter indicating that the Department was exercising its authority under the terms of the signed funding agreement with the First Nation to appoint a “Third Party Manager” to handle the affairs of the First Nation citing the health and safety of the community members.

This rationale is mere political deflection as the conditions cited by the Department are present in numerous other First Nations communities, and this rational has been used by the Department to silence us when we brought these conditions to the attention of Canadian society. There are examples across Canada where Third Party Managers are allowing similar conditions to exist while offering little or no aide to their appointed First Nation communities.

The communication of the decision to appoint a modern day Indian Agent was done by a Departmental official who interrupted a planning meeting of the communities’ emergency planning team, who were in the midst of implementing a strategy to assist the people living in tent frames and shacks.

Chief Spence upon receiving the notification was incensed by actions of Aboriginal Affairs Canada, not only by interrupting a meeting of the communities’ emergency team, but also by the cited reasons for the imposition of an Indian Agent. Chief Spence expressed surprise that after over a month of inaction, the Harper government has elected to blame the poorest of Canadian society rather than to offer assistance.

Chief Spence said “It is incredible that the Harper Government’s decision is that instead of offering aide and assistance to Canada’s First Peoples, their solution is to blame the victim, and that the community is guilty, and deserving of their fate.”

Chief Spence also expressed concern about comments recently made in the House of Commons, regarding the funding levels claimed to be received by the Attawapiskat First Nation. Based on an analysis of the funding received by the First Nation, from the Department the amount received by the First Nation is in the range of $10,000.00, per capita on an annual basis for each on Reserve member, not the $50,000 as stated in the House and media.

We have tabulated figures from 2005 to 2011that clearly indicates the funding received is well below poverty line in Ontario. Housing and minor capital is a mere 6.5% ($6M over 6 years) of the $94M received over the 6 year period. The funding received by the First Nation is not distributed to on Reserve members as individuals. It is used to provide specific services, and programs for the benefit and use of on Reserve members. This is based on statistics maintained by the Indian Registry maintained by Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada.

The First Nation has completed all of the necessary reporting requirements of the Department, including receiving unqualified annual audits for the funds received from the Department for the past six years. All of these have been reviewed, and have been accepted by Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada.

If the Government of Canada wishes to re-examine the audits previously accepted by the Department, the First Nation will welcome, and cooperate fully with the exercise, and the true costs to operate in a remote, northern environment will be quantified.

The taxpayers of Ontario and Canada should be made aware that the majority of the $94M received to support the Attawapiskat First Nation over that past six years from Aboriginal Affairs does not remain or circulate in our community.

The majority of these funds go to support the greater economy of Northern Ontario and Canada for goods, materials, services, contractors, legal advice and auditing services to mention a few, which in turn support urban northern communities such as Timmins, Sudbury, Sault Ste Marie, Thunder Bay, North Bay, Toronto, Kenora and Winnipeg to name a few. The majority of these firms are non Aboriginal tax-payers.

These are the very issues facing the community of Attawapiskat, and many other First Nation communities in Canada’s hinterland. Chief Spence has said. “On our traditional lands, that we once shared in the past with the visitors to our land, our lands, have proven to be bountiful in natural resources, and have been a benefit to all of Ontario, and Canada, but we were left behind.

In our territory, we have a world class diamond mine, the pride of the Canadian, and Ontario governments, as well as De Beers Canada. They have every right to be proud of that mine, but each party has failed to acknowledge the First Nation peoples who continue to use the land as our grandparents did.”

While they reap the riches, my people shiver in cold shacks, and are becoming increasing ill, while precious diamonds from my land grace the fingers, and necklaces of Hollywood celebrities, and the mace of the Ontario Legislature. My people deserve dignity, humane living conditions, for that our community asked for the assistance from my fellow citizens, for our simple request for human dignity, the government’s decision was to impose a colonial Indian Agent. Minister John Duncan has missed an opportunity to alter the relationships with First Nations across this country, and to renew the positive values of being a member of Canadian society.

Prime Minister Harper has forgone another opportunity to build upon the good will developed from Canada’s National Apology for the abuses of the residential school system, a once in a generation opportunity, Governments of the past respected our Peoples by negotiating and honouring Treaty Agreements, this government does not have the same perspective. The United Nations Declaration on Indigenous Peoples, of which Canada is a signatory, outlines the obligations to maintain, and ensure the position of my people.

My First Nation has received generous support from the Canadian public, and many corporate sponsors who wish to address the concerns of my community, for which we are grateful.

We have reached out to other First Nations in Ontario, and Canada, who share our concerns about the broken promises of Treaties, and lack of resource sharing for the wealth taken from our traditional Homelands. The era of not listening to the concerns of our people is at an end. This is the beginning.....
Blood Tribe Chief Charles Weasel Head arranged the honorary chieftainship.  “My family and I are deeply grateful for this gift and I will carry my Blood name, Chief Speaker, with great joy and pride,”
Blood Tribe Chief Charles Weasel Head arranged the honorary chieftainship. “My family and I are deeply grateful for this gift and I will carry my Blood name, Chief Speaker, with great joy and pride,”
Planning doesn't cost anything
Comment by c. sandecki on 11th December 2011
Surely Chief Spencer and her 18 councillors might have guessed in the summer that come cold weather, the 2000 reserve residents would face miserable conditions in their flimsy shacks. Why didn't they declare a housing emergency then when it might have been possible to barge in trailers or materials to make repairs before cold weather? Were they oblivious to the gaps in doors that don't close tight and other problems that make them vulnerable to every snowflake and breeze? And why build a skating rink and buy a $70,000 zamboni before they improved their housing?
Comment by Angie on 5th December 2011
Your exact words were "A community should not exist based entirely on Government hand outs."
You give the authority for them to leave or do you dare them to.
As soon as they they leave the remainder of their land will be scooped up by the Government.
Helloooo that IS the long term plan.
Do you really think there is a future for natives off reserve? They are put down and stereo typed so bad, especially in public, like on a newspaper article.
People like yourself are not helping the situation, you are only feeding your bigoted followers.
FYI: a single person living on reserve, if entitled to social assistance get approx $185 a month.
Finding work on reserve is nearly impossible, there is more options of finding work off reserve but then there is a housing problem again.
according to Ministry of Social Development those same individuals are not eligible for assistance off reserve until they meet the 2 year independance test, which is literally impossible when living on reserve.
And HRDC has limits as well.
Downward spiral there buddy, doesn't matter which way you turn the people get screwed by the Government.
R U tired of holding them down yet? Take a break, you need it. Must be tiring holding that anger and hatred.
Comment by Dave on 5th December 2011
You didn't read my post, I said a communities welfare should not be based entirely on funds from the Government.

Did I say any town exists without any Government support, no I did not. The things you bring up like hospitals and schools as well as Policing are Government provided services. These things are normal to every town but are supplemental to a local tax base and economy. Terrace has places to work and has other revenue streams. If everyone here stopped thinking about the future...mining projects, alcan moderization ect then eventually we may be in some kind of a crisis and out of work....but guess what you do when you live when you can't make it, you move. Even the starving people in Somolia moved to Kenya because there was nothing to eat there. No one is chaining these people to this reserve, there is no crisis in many parts of this country, time to leave. I know many FN peoples who left reserves, they are doing just fine and maybe better because they left the reserves.

Now its true what you said if someone is concentrating on survival its hard to think about anything else. I would say this is true for the people of Somolia who have nothing. All of the people of Attawapiskat are all not thinking about survival all the time. I know there are people on that reserve there who work at the local diamond mines, its not all about survival as they do have money but the main issue there is not money but there is a lack of quality housing so they may be thinking about comfort. So if my house was broken, guess what I fix it. Trouble is they don't own their houses so why spend the money on them? This is true of many reserve homes, the people living in them have no motivation to care for them as they don't own the homes, I suppose the Band owns them. Its kind of like renting vs buying. Go drive through the older part of Kitsumkalum Reserve and then drive through the new section you'll see the older homes are falling down and are not much older than the homes in the horse shoe part of Terrace. Its the same with Gitaus, others near Hazelton I could go on. No person has ownership over anything there and on Attawapiskat they are waiting for the Government to fix it, and here is what I am saying, you can not have a community based on Government support, the Government isn't looked at this way by Canadians not on reserves.

This whole reserve system is broken and its ridiculous we still have it in 2011. The only ones who benefit are the well paid chiefs and band counsel. If there is no direct ownership in the community by any one person and no one has a stake in its success or failure. If no one has any personal ownership or stake in the community then ultimately people will not care whether it succeeds or not. People who plan on living in Terrace and own a home or business here are happy when new projects or employment starts because they know it will benefit them indirectly or directly.

The reserve system is shameful and it fosters no pride in the people who continue to live there because they have no stake in its success or failure, the only ones who have a stake in anything are the chiefs who make large pay cheques. The Government should just give the land the reserves are on to the FN communities, let them own them and they will take care of their homes, their streets and buildings. They will start to care and do more for their future.
Well done Angie.
Comment by Helmut Giesbrecht on 4th December 2011
Nothing is as simple as some people would like it to be. There is a lot to this story that should make people cautious about accepting the usual government explanation. You have made that clear. Thanks!
Comment by Angie Campbell on 4th December 2011
What does your community consist of?
Where I live the community consists of a city councel who allocate Government money, a hospital which is also paid for by the government, a school system which is also paid for by the government, independent merchants who sometimes recieve ta breaks. HRDC is present to make sure individuals are assisted to find work or assisted financially if you are between jobs, and MHSD to make sure families dont go without. ALL of these things sustain a community Dave. When the School doesn't have enough money from the Government , we close a school... NOT an option in a small community, they more or less went without books or teachers.
We all know our Government has us dangling on thier strings. pointing fingers and making judgements at the ones who are being held down longer is not going to solve anything.
If the Government spent as much time, energy and money in rectifying the "State of Emergency" as they did on pointing fingers and trying to prove the community at fault, this wouldn't have gone public.
And Dave, when people are concentrating on survival, obviously a long term solution is not being planned.
The more time spent on holding people down the less time spent on the real issue!!!
Third part manager??
Comment by c. sandecki on 4th December 2011
Christie Blatchford of The National Post had this to say about the third party manager appointed to Attawapiskat a year ago"

"The revelation that the purportedly professional financial co-manager who was appointed by the Attawapiskat council a year ago at Ottawa’s direction is none other than Chief Theresa Spence’s boyfriend is a revelation of the order that the sun will rise in the east tomorrow."
why blaim the government
Comment by Dave on 2nd December 2011
A community should not exist based entirely on Government hand outs. This is not a long term solution. I do not blame the Government at all.

There are several success stories in BC with FN becoming self sustaining. Maybe those BC leaders need to pay a visit to this community, give them some guidance and it won't come off as racist or "blaming the victim".

I cried when I read this....
Comment by Nancy on 2nd December 2011
This reminds me of when I use to live with an abuser. He would give me money for bills but when I splurged once to buy something fun for my kids, (too forget about the living conditions, even just for a day), I got abused more instead of showing a little compassion from my so called loved one.

I felt the same way when I had to go to social services for a short period of time. When someone is given just enough to barely survive, living in depressing conditions, and they come across an opportunity to feel good about themselves, even for the short term, most will concede.

Having to make choices between heat, food and shelter is a constant strain on a person’s well being. What are you going to skimp on just to have a little pride and joy? How can a family, community, the world for that matter, build moral and pride if they have to deal with the everyday onslaught of abuse, bullying and shame.

To hear the Prime Minister and the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs make these flip statements showing their indifference brings me right back to that place – powerless.

When people are stripped of their emotional and cultural dignity they try and find a way too feel good about something, anything to counter the constant oppressive shameful thoughts pounding in their heads.

It is a tough fight; even tougher is defending yourself while trying to overcome substance abuse baggage that seems to be the legacy from having your life and heritage ripped away from you.

My thoughts and prayers to my higher power are with the people of Attawapiskat. May you survive another “helping hand” from your abuser.