Third World conditions — First World ignorance
TheStar.com – opinion/editorialopinion
Published On Wed Nov 30 2011. Angus Toulouse
Last month, the Mushkego (Cree) people at Attawapiskat announced they were in a “state of emergency” due to the deplorable housing situation in their northern community. This announcement has, so far, been mostly met with a lot of finger-pointing by government in what can only be described as a useless blame game.
Last week, while the announcement was making its way to the top of the media’s attention, Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Minister John Duncan was in Saskatchewan announcing an accountability bill related to First Nations leaders’ salaries. There are people’s lives at risk here, and the concern is to ensure chiefs aren’t making too much money.
I have also read that the minister is using the financial situation of the community as an excuse for not taking immediate action. First Nations receive a fixed and inadequate amount of funding annually from the federal government via “contribution agreements,” which are contracts like any other with deliverables and reporting requirements.
When emergency situations occur, First Nations like Attawapiskat must either use the money provided for their basic needs or they must call upon the federal and provincial governments to provide financial assistance. Often they end up using their existing funding to address crisis situations in their communities, with no reimbursement from any level of government. As a result, they go into deficit.
During the course of the last few centuries, the current Attawapiskat population has been deprived of the way of life their ancestors enjoyed. This has occurred through the process of colonization and settlement by the newcomers to their lands.
The Mushkego at Attawapiskat adhered to Treaty #9, in exchange for access to and settlement on much of their lands. They were promised, both orally and in writing, a number of rights and services. Canada and the province of Ontario have benefitted immensely from this treaty and continue to do so. As a treaty partner, it is up to the Crown to ensure its obligations to the Mushkego of Attawapiskat are fulfilled and also that the honour of the Crown is upheld. All of this information should not be news to Canada — and yet, it continues to be ignored.
It’s not the time for finger pointing or attempting to convince the Canadian public that loads of money has already been spent on aboriginal peoples in Canada, and that accountability and transparency are the answer. With the temperatures steadily dropping as we head into winter, this crisis needs to be addressed immediately. First Nations peoples are resilient, but everyone has a limit. People may die if Canada continues to ignore this situation.
Angus Toulouse is the Regional Chief of the Chiefs of Ontario.
< http://www.thestar.com/opinion/editorialopinion/article/1095190–third-world-conditions-first-world-ignorance >