Let me qualify this post by saying first, I’m not First Nations, so in no way can I presume to completely understand the issues,feelings or experiences of any First Nations people.
On the other hand, I’m not a politician either, but I do have considerable business/commerce knowledge and experience, both taught and practical. I’ve also worked on the front lines of a (now-defunct) not for profit housing agency, dealing with clients from all walks of life : the mentally ill, addicted, those from generational poverty and those recently down and out. We were also one of the few agencies to deal with recent parole’s from both provincial and federal facilities, as well as the Colony Farm Forensic facility, that houses the criminally insane.
Needless to say, I have a few stories to tell. Another day perhaps, but all this experience ties into the current attention being played to First Nations issues in the media. My perspective comes from someone experienced in dealing with barriers to escaping poverty, and someone experienced with using hard facts and evidence that would stand up in court.
As played out before the entire world, the audit of Attawapiskat was “leaked” to CBC yesterday, prompting a firestorm of epic proportions. Accusations and blame began flying left to right: look at this proof, all Indian chiefs are criminals, blah blah blah.. but overwhelmingly the portrayal by many media sources what that Chief Spence was to blame for all that Attawapiskat has to deal with.
Really? Let’s talk some reality here.
Is this one woman to blame for all the misery behind Attawapiskat? What responsibility does the government hold for this particular situation…. which in reality, is only one of many communites plagued by similar issues of substandard housing, unsafe water,substandard education and poverty, across Canada?
Let’s start with… “The Audit”.
First of all, this audit was completed last year.
It is not a new document, suddenly appearing out of no where, it was finalized last year, as this letter shows. http://www.aadnc-aandc.gc.ca/eng/1350245614631/1350245787729
Spence has known about this since last year, and so did the government. So, why didnt they release it when it first appeared? Oh… wait… perhaps it wasnt politically convenient to them.
Enough said on that.
The audit details hundreds of transactions with either little documentation or none.
It is a scathing testament to accountability for this community – if one is honest -and it doesn’t impress me at all, as someone who puts transparency and accountability in any form of governance at the top of the list.
I know firsthand from friends in other First Nations communities that chiefs ( most often elected, not hereditary) who live very well while others are despondent, are indeed a big issue, one that plays out with increasing frequency despite little to no media coverage in communities without a voice.
So, in some cases, it’s not unlike our provincial and federal governments…
Example…. more often than not, senior bureaucrats who make decisions behind the scenes make even more than the PM, MP’s or MLA’s… but do we see an in-depth forensic audit or expose happening on that?
Ahh… no, that wouldnt be very convenient, would it? Accountability depends on who receives inside info, or how filed the best FOI request.No one milking the gravy train is going to come forward on their own to admit it.
However, what really bothered me is that what many media outlets did not report that while the audit covered the federal funds received by the community between the years of 2005 and 2011 …. Theresa Spence only became Chief in 2010.
In my opinion, this is important information that was not reported in a lot of the coverage.
Simply speaking, because it is truthful.
Clearly, given this audit, Spence can’t take all the blame for what is going on in this community, not by far. What ails Attawapiskat isn’t new, in fact has been going on for a long time, and is being repeated in First Nations communities all across the country, from Powell River, to Northern BC, to the NorthWest Territories.
The evidence is visible in many First Nations communities simply by driving through them. Shacks, repaired and re-repaired, tacked up, and curtains of rags covering windows. Let’s not pretend this is not true, OK?
So who takes the blame?
Take a look at this audit presented by interim Auditor John Wiersema.http://www.oag-bvg.gc.ca/internet/English/parl_oag_201106_04_e_35372.html
In a report by CBC in June of 2011, the departing Auditor General of Canada, whose time with the Harper government conveniently( for them) came to an end, had this to say:
” The basics of life — education, child welfare, clean drinking water and adequate housing — are persistently and dramatically substandard, and in some cases deteriorating, says the report.
A true fix, however, requires more than tinkering with policies and implementation of new processes, the report warns. Instead, a complete overhaul of federal tools and increased participation of First Nations themselves is necessary.
“I am profoundly disappointed to note … that despite federal action in response to our recommendations over the years, a disproportionate number of First Nations people still lack the most basic services that other Canadians take for granted,” former auditor general Sheila Fraser says in her parting words to Parliament.
“In a country as rich as Canada, this disparity is unacceptable.”
Fraser’s team went over all 16 of her audits of First Nations policy from the last 10 years, and then went back to government to see how well officials had lived up to their key commitments to make improvements.
In many cases, she found, little effort had been made to make changes. In cases where new strategies had been introduced, progress was difficult to note.
Funding formulas are based on 1980s information, and strategies for improvements have been left unimplemented or applied unevenly.
On housing, the audit points out that the shortage of adequate shelter has increased, while conditions in existing housing have deteriorated. Rampant mould problems have been met with an information campaign on websites and pamphlets, rather than actual help or funding to eradicate the harmful spores.
When it comes to drinking water on reserves, the federal government has drafted legislation to ensure its safety, but concrete changes are years away, the report warns.
In the meantime, water quality testing is only being done sporadically, and key information is not being shared. More than half of reserves’ drinking water systems are at risk, the report said.
After paying close attention to First Nations’ issues for a solid decade, Fraser says she has concluded that a radical fix is needed.
“In our view, many of the problems facing First Nations go deeper than the existing programs’ lack of efficiency and effectiveness.”
Progress is blocked by the fact that there is no legislation defining the level and range of services the federal government is responsible for, she says.
Funding arrangements are based on annual contribution agreements that make it hard for communities to know if they will receive timely and stable financing. And most First Nations bands don’t have the school-board or health-board infrastructure that other communities rely on to support delivery of key services.
Governments at the provincial and federal levels, as well as First Nations themselves, need to hash out a better way to co-operate and deliver the basics, Fraser warns.
“Unless they rise to this challenge, however, living conditions may continue to be poorer on First Nations reserves than elsewhere in Canada for generations to come.”
What is pertinent in this report is that Fraser places accountability also in the hands of First Nations, while clearly spelling out a decade of failings of this government.
I suggest you read the entire report.
It is an eye-opener if you are of the camp that believes First Nations created their own problems to solve. Or that Government is blameless.
Does that mean that I blindly absolve Spence of all accountability? Not at all.
It is disappointing to see her driving such an expensive and truly, if you are a northerner and know which vehicles perform best in rough conditions – ridiculously expensive vehicle.
An Escalade, something that has become nothing but a status symbol driven by uber-moms in my neighbourhood, movie stars and music producers…to gangsters with blinged out rims… and apparently Chiefs in reserves experiencing desperate conditions. How much did that puppy cost up there? The optics are not good, at all. Everything that far north costs a fortune to not only buy, but transport into the community.
It is also disheartening to hear of continued assertions that there is no issue with her life partner ( Clayton Kennedy) performing the duties as Band Manager, because, if you are honest, this is a clear and substantiated conflict of interest, a completely unacceptable situation everyone here would howl about if it occurred with Harper and his wife,or any other leader across Canada.
The media would be howling over that I think… or am I wrong in saying this?
More damning is this video from CBC done a year ago, but being spread far and wide, most recently in this article from the National Post :
Clearly, it shows that problems exist that do need to be addressed if one wants to hold all of us to to the same level of accountability that we hold the Harper government and our provincial governments to.
Why are donations sitting in a house doing nothing, when children are going without all over Canada? Why is a life partner handling finances when its a clear conflict? If the video is incorrect in its portrayal, I beg Attawapiskat residents to tell me this, please.
All of it, speaks to a problem deeper and far harder to solve than anyone imagines. And if you think I am wrong, let me know loud and clear. To expect accountability from one side is to expect it from the other….. indeed, I’ve been all over that for years… but what happens when one side has the education, the means and the resources to be accountable…. and chooses not to – like our federal and provincial governments?
What happens when one side doesn’t fairly have the same access… and is demonized by media, friends and foes alike?
What happens when we have a federal government that muzzles scientists, a government that gets rid of auditors that point out inconvenient truths and conducts more business in secrecy than it does publicly to avoid confrontation?
And where does that leave all of us, as a nation?