It became a political issue as soon as the Chief stood with a provincial and federal NDP member on each side of her and it has escalated ever since to the point where the Chief and band council have turfed the federal appointee who was assigned to administer the funds in Attawapiskat out of the reserve. We are now into a classic game of political standoff. Each side will dig in to stick up for their principles, each side will insist that they have the authority to act as they have done and in the meantime winter gets worse and the likelihood of there being any successful resolution to improving living conditions on the reserve waits.
The public doesn’t see much progress. We don’t see or read about any attempts at constructive solutions. What we read about is the political maneuvering of each side. Offers of help are coming in, but it seems the priority is the blame game. The Chief blames Ottawa, Ottawa looks at administration of funds, the province blames the federal government and the opposition seize on the issue as though they didn’t know these conditions have existed for decades. And while offers of help come in, the people wait for the opposing sides to find a solution. Incidentally, one such offer to help came from John Tory, who to his credit, is acting, trying to recruit carpenters and other donated services to help make repairs now, not after some long drawn out political test of wills.
The NDP will milk the crisis for all they can, as will the Liberals, but what will it achieve? Will the bombast in Question Period build a new home for a family in desperate need of a livable shelter this winter? Will blaming Aboriginal Affairs minister Duncan for every problem, solve them? A Minister is told what a department feel is necessary for them to know. Unless someone tips staff or a minister off to a developing problem, they won’t be aware of them. It is a department’s responsibility to monitor the situation and make recommendations on a course of action to the minister. If Duncan was not properly briefed on the urgent situation at Attawapiskat, why wasn’t he?
Many will argue that the federal government’s decision to appoint an administrator and ask for an audit is punishing Attawapiskat for speaking out about their issues and the urgent situation there. But political rhetoric aside, why wouldn’t the government want to look at the books? If Attawapiskat wants the continued support of the public over an extended period of time it has to show that they are managing funds effectively. There are media reports that irregularities although no wrong doings were found in a recent audit, while a heavy handed and paternalistic approach from the department, one should not be surprised if the government wanted an up to date audit. But in the meantime who is helping the people who need housing now. Fight it out in court and do your audits after you take care of the emergency.
There are nine sitting days left before the House of Commons breaks for the Christmas holidays. After that our MPs won’t return until January 30th. The political rhetoric and posturing will die down over this period and if we do not act now, help for the people in Attawapiskat will be lost in the seasonal activities that occupy so much of our attention. By the time the House returns there will have been a Crown-First Nations meeting which will hopefully look at long term solutions to the situation in all of our aboriginal communities.
Assembly of First Nations National Chief Shawn Atleo had it right when he said today in reference to the on-going relationship with Ottawa, “We will encourage this to become an all-party movement, avoiding blaming, finger pointing and certainly not using the plight of our people to score political points …We need the energy, we need ideas and most importantly, we need the commitment of all parties to achieve this change right now.”
In the meantime though, as temperatures plunge in Attawapiskat, can’t all sides put aside their differences, stop the posturing and work on what is really necessary… putting the people of Attawapiskat first. The blame game can wait until the New Year.