Auditing Attawapiskat

Attawapiskat Tribal Office, Ontario

Down in Southern Ontario you’ll hear plenty of grumbling about winter, but our winters are pretty mild by Northern Ontario standards. Can you imagine living in isolated Attawapiskat, way, way up on James Bay?

no roads lead to Attawapiskat

Attawapiskat is literally “off the beaten track.” The only way in or out, year round, is by air. Just getting people and goods to and from Attawapiskat has to be a very expensive proposition.

No one is offering to trade Attawapiskat’s pristine James Bay real estate for an equivalent amount of prime waterfront land in Toronto.

Last year, Chief Theresa Spence brought Attawapiskat to national attention when she declared a state of emergency due to deficient housing. She asked for help, but near as I can tell it hasn’t been forthcoming.

tackling a problem

This year, Chief Spence embarked on a hunger strike in an effort to get a meeting with Prime Minister Harper.

Over the past weeks, Chief Spence has proven herself a real Canadian hero by virtue of her willingness to sacrifice herself for the good of her people. Canadians are flocking to her banner.

In stark contrast, Prime Minister Harper has come across as particularly cold hearted — even for him — in his attempt to avoid even meeting with the Attawapiskat Chief. The Prime Minister finally had no choice but to bow to overwhelming multi-partisan pressure and agree to a meeting. Is it any wonder it was necessary to try to discredit Chief Spence with a bit of spurious mudslinging?

the audit

Canada’s supposed “newsmedia” has made much of the just released “Attawapiskat Audit.”

Curiously, Chief Spence is being vilified in the media even though she only became Chief of the Attawapiskat First Nation on August 27, 2010 and the 6 year audit ended in 2010. According to the CBC, the documentation problem identified in the audit also predates the Chief’s tenure:

“The audit also noted “significant staff turnover” that had resulted in a “corporate memory loss” for transactions reported prior to 2010. Deloitte had difficulty tracing some of the earlier transactions because of changes in Attawapiskat’s record-keeping systems.”

CBC: Attawapiskat chief slams audit leak as ‘distraction’

The federal government’s decade of intervention in Attawapiskat’s financial affairs means the responsibility for the financial problems cited in the audit rests squarely with the Government.

“The Attawapiskat First Nation was placed under co-management – a form of intervention employed by the Department with the goal of improving the financial situation of a recipient – by AANDC over ten years ago. On November 30, 2011, urgent housing health and safety issues in the community requiring immediate action were identified and resulted in AANDC appointing a Third Party Manager until such time as the community’s immediate needs would be addressed. On April 19, 2012, based on the progress made in remediating urgent housing-related health and safety issues, AANDC determined that the default situation was remedied and removed the First Nation from third party management.”

Audit of the AANDC and Attawapiskat First Nation (AFN) Management Control Framework, Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada

Even the most vitriolic attackers accept the auditor’s assumption that the financial problem is one of procedural breakdown, not malfeasance. The amount under contention, according to Christie Blatchford, is “$104-million in taxpayer funding that has flowed to Attawapiskat between April of 2005 and November of 2011.”

Still, I can’t help wondering why an apparent case of bureaucratic bungling spread over six years is being subjected to such howls of outrage in the media. Particularly when there was barely a whimper about the questionable case of the G8 fund. In that instance, the federal government spent 50 million dollars on “beautification” over the course of a summer under the dubious umbrella of the G8 Summit.

The mainstream “news media” seems poised to serve up the federal government in the best possible light. Could this have any connection with the fact our government is the largest advertiser to be found from sea to shining sea?

putting it in perspective

The numbers being thrown around seem designed to make the Attawapiskat leadership look really bad.

Until you do some actual comparisons.

“Should Toronto be put under third party management? That community has been running a deficit for years, and the combined total of all government spending (federal, provincial and municipal) is $24,000 a year for each Torontonian.

Attawapiskat, on the other hand, which is only funded by one level of government — federal – received $17.6 million in this fiscal year, for all of the programs and infrastructure for its 1,550 residents. That works out to about $11,355 per capita in Attawapiskat.”

Taking a Second Look at those Attawapiskat Numbers, Lorraine Land, Olthuis Kleer Townshend – LLP

Further reading:
Idle No More: Where do we go from here?

Idle No More

The Guardian: Canada’s First Nations: a scandal where the victims are blamed

p2pnet: Attawapiskat

p2pnet: Attawapiskat: Canada’s shame

World War 4 Report [Defending the Fourth World, Deconstructing Overseas Contingency Operations] Canada: First Nations challenge Bill C-45 in courts

From Occupy to Idle No More

Idle No More: A profound social movement that is already succeeding

Mallick: Finally, native Canadians defend themselves at every level

Media Co-op: “What if Natives Stop Subsidizing Canada?” by Dru Oja Jay

The Dearlove: On Idle No More: Would you drive 8 minutes to save a life?

a horizontal border of red graphic maple leaves

Image Credit
Office of the Attawapiskat First Nation in Attawapiskat, Ontario. Red building at left is post office. This photograph was taken in the early 1990s. photograph by Paul Lantz, released under a Creative Commons Attribution Sharealike 3.0 unported License [via Wikipedia]


One thought on “Auditing Attawapiskat

  1. Great post, Laurel. Chief Spence probably knew some serious mud was coming her way from Harper and the media soon, that any mistakes ever made on the reserve were going to come to light and be blamed on her and First Nations in general no matter whose fault it really was. Just like when the opposition to the pipeline started suddenly those complaining were “foreign-funded radicals”. But she’s been willing to stand her ground anyway and face whatever comes their way. That makes a strong statement that the problems she is willing to put her life on the line for are much bigger than undocumented expenses in underfunded Attawapiskat.

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