The Attawapiskat audit: Distracting us from a legacy of failure – elizabethmaymp.ca – January 11, 2013
The Attawapiskat audit: Distracting us from a legacy of failure
I had hoped the Prime Minister’s decision to meet with First Nations leadership this Friday was a hopeful sign of a new beginning in building nation to nation respectful relationships. Perhaps it could finally be the beginning of implementing the 1996 Report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples.
Unfortunately, there is an ugly tone in the air as Conservative spokespeople, such as Senator Patrick Brazeau, line up in the media to take pot shots at Chief Theresa Spence. Although the Attawapiskat audit covers 2005-2011, Theresa Spence was only elected chief in 2010.
The release of the audit of Attawapiskat band finances is heralded by some as evidence of – what exactly? – that the housing crisis in First Nations communities is the fault of their leadership? The audit is not evidence of fraud, but shows an unacceptable level of expenditures for which proper documentation was not provided. It does not suggest the money was spent improperly. We simply do not know. Finger pointing and attacks will not help build a relationship based on respect for treaty and inherent indigenous rights.
So let’s just step back for a moment and admit what everyone knows. Millions of dollars in federal funding for indigenous peoples goes to non-indigenous consultants and lawyers and the bureaucracy supposedly at the service of First Nations communities. Many First Nations communities could benefit from better book keeping and financial controls, but so too could the federal government as the Auditor General has frequently reported. There is a reason that former Auditor General Sheila Fraser dedicated so much of her final report to the unacceptable multiple failures of the federal government in delivering on goals in meeting minimum obligations to First Nations, Metis and Inuit peoples. In 2005 and again in 2011, the Auditor General set out a litany of abuse. In a report prepared by Sheila Fraser and released by her successor, she noted, “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.” She did not point fingers at the individual communities, but rather at the Department of Aboriginal Affairs for relying on vague policy rather than the kind of clear legislation found at the provincial level to meet non-indigenous needs for health, housing, water and education.