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Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence didn’t imagine she’d ever address the venerable Economic Club of Canada or face a bank of television cameras in the nation’s capital. “When I declared an emergency last September, it wasn’t my intention to cause embarrassment to Canada and I didn’t plan this type of exposure. I just wanted to help my community,” she told a lunchtime crowd.
Whatever her intent, she succeeded in getting millions of dollars of aid shipped into her northern Ontario reserve, in the form of 22 new modular homes, a retrofit of the community’s healing lodge and emergency supplies like water purification systems and health equipment.
But while everyone can agree Attawapiskat was a humanitarian crisis, there are divergent views on how it came about.
Judging by her remarks, Chief Spence is in no doubt – it was all Ottawa’s fault. In a classic case of blame-shift, she said the housing crisis was the result of government funding cuts and broken promises. “Under the federal government, we are still subject to assimilation and racial discrimination,” she said.
No mention was made of the band council’s role – that the band located and oversaw construction of the mouldy houses. Nor was any blame ascribed to a system where residents do not own, and thus have no incentive to maintain, their homes.
It was hard to tell the precise source of her outrage, such was the blunderbuss nature of the attack. But one thing was clear, no blame can be attached to her or her band council – and they are intent on fighting Ottawa’s imposition of third party management that has left an accountancy firm in charge of day-to-day affairs in Attawapiskat.
Amid the all the finger-pointing, there was one cogent point – and it was the same central concern expressed by many of the chiefs who attended the Crown-First Nations Gathering in Ottawa Tuesday, namely the acknowledgment by the federal government of native treaty rights.
The issue here is not merely academic – chiefs want Ottawa to recognize treaty rights so that they can force the government’s hand on resource revenue sharing. “Great riches are being taken from our land for the benefit of others, including the governments of Canada and Ontario. They receive huge royalty payments and we receive so little,” said Chief Spence. “Herein lies the real problem affecting First Nations – the ability to develop communities with no financial basis.”
She was referring to the $1-billion Victor diamond mine operated by De Beers and located 90km west of Attawapiskat. The company has signed an impact benefit agreement under which they will pay the band an estimated $30-million over the 12 year life of the mine.
For the rest of this article, please go to the National Post website: http://fullcomment.nationalpost.com/2012/01/25/john-ivison-revenue-sharing-education-key-to-native-self-reliance/