The real story behind Attawapiskat’s problems – by Thomas Walkom (Toronto Star – January 9, 2013)

The Toronto Star has the largest circulation in Canada. The paper has an enormous impact on federal and Ontario politics as well as shaping public opinion.

Making sense of Attawapiskat is not easy. The James Bay native community is synonymous with poverty. But it sits next to a diamond mine. Its chief, Theresa Spence, has become famous across Canada because of the hunger strike she is waging on an island in the Ottawa River.

She insists she’ll only consume liquids until Prime Minister Stephen Harper meets with her (which he has agreed to do). But what does Spence want from that meeting? This is less clear. She talks vaguely of a new relationship between aboriginal first nations and the federal government.

We now know, thanks to a detailed audit of Attawapiskat’s finances commissioned by Ottawa, that the first nation’s bookkeeping leaves much to be desired.

Auditors from Deloitte and Touche concluded that roughly 80 per cent of the detailed spending transactions they investigated came with little or no paperwork, making it unclear how the monies were spent.

Yet oddly enough, another auditing firm — this one based in Timmins — has regularly been okaying the band’s annual financial statements, all of which are available on the Attawapiskat website.

Supporters of Spence have charged that the Harper government deliberately timed the release of the Deloitte and Touche audit to embarrass her. But so far no one has disputed its findings.

Indeed, band co-manager Clayton Kennedy (who is also Spence’s spouse) told the news site iPolitics that the auditor’s suggestions for improving Attawapiskat’s bookkeeping were “healthy” and that he agreed with them.

The contradictions of Attawapiskat are there for anyone who bothers to visit this remote community of 1,900. Except for an ice highway open only for a few weeks in the dead of winter, there are no roads that go anywhere.

But as Star reporter Raveena Aulakh noted, there are plenty of shiny new trucks.

When I first went to Attawapiskat, back in 1989, I wrote that housing was so crowded that nine people were routinely stuffed into one three bedroom home.

For the rest of this column, please go to the Toronto Star website:–walkom-the-real-story-behind-attawapiskat-s-problems