A regional chief who represents Attawapiskat says that a number of
his counterparts in other First Nations are prepared to engage in civil
disobedience over Ottawa's handling of a housing crisis in the northern
"There's people who are ready to stand up and be counted... to stand
up and do civil disobedience so that we are heard," Stan Louttit told
Evan Solomon on CBC-TV's Power & Politics.
"If the minister does not want to work with us, you may see that
sooner than later," said Louttit, who presides over the Mushkegowuk
Council, which represents Attawapiskat and six other First Nations.
Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Duncan has ordered an independent
audit of Attawapiskat's finances and has appointed a third-party manager
to oversee spending, after local leaders declared an emergency over
substandard housing conditions.
Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence declared an emergency in October as
winter approached, while some members of the community of about 1,800
huddled in unheated tents, condemned housing and portable trailers.
Spence has criticized Ottawa's handling of the crisis, saying
residents need emergency assistance first and foremost, and accusing the
federal government of trying to silence her community. Spence has also
said the local band council is developing its own plan to deal with the
crisis, though she has not provided details.
Fireman, 69, lives with his four grandchildren and their parents. A
former band councillor, Fireman says he has been waiting 20 years for
repairs to his home. (Allison Dempster/CBC)
When the outside manager, Jacques Marion, arrived in Attawapiskat on Monday, he was promptly asked to leave by the band, which said his presence was unwanted.
In a rambling but emotional speech at the Assembly of First Nations
meeting in Ottawa, Spence said her community had fulfilled its
obligations but her people were suffering because of longstanding
substandard living conditions.
"We need to say, enough is enough … and I'm asking the chiefs to tell
the government that what was done to Attawapiskat First Nation … we're
not going to take it no more," she said. "We're not going to tolerate
this childish behaviour from the government when we ask for assistance."
Request for UN assistance
was in Ottawa to meet Assembly of First Nations National Chief Shawn
Atleo, along with several other First Nations chiefs who are in the
capital to set their agenda for the next year.
The assembled leaders passed a resolution
Tuesday declaring their support for "the leadership and citizens of
Attawapiskat First Nation in their efforts to address the emergency
needs of their people including ensuring adequate housing and health
'We have many Attawapiskats. It's an issue that has really plagued this country.'—Shawn Atleo, Assembly of First Nations national chief
resolution also requested the United Nations bring in a "special
rapporteur" to find out whether Ottawa is meeting its legal obligations
toward aboriginal people. It calls on Ottawa to respond quickly in First
Nations communities afflicted by substandard living conditions and
advises the aboriginal affairs minister to work with local chiefs and
councils instead of imposing new measures on them.
“We have many Attawapiskats,” Atleo said. “It’s an issue that has
really plagued this country, and for the first time, Canadians in a
really significant manner have really had, right in their living rooms,
through the reports coming out of Attawapiskat, what our people have
felt day in and day out for a long, long time.”
Atleo supported the chief’s decision to kick out the third-party
manager, saying that Spence "is doing what an elected leader in any
community must do: stand up strong for her people."
“We can’t accept externally imposed solutions. That has given us the status quo that we have now.”
The Attawapiskat crisis has been a hot topic in the House of Commons
for several days, with Opposition MPs deploring the government's focus
on financial management, and Conservative MPs defending Ottawa's
Harper has said his government has given the community around $90
million over the past five years, though critics noted most of that
money went to infrastructure and services unrelated to housing.
On Tuesday, Harper reiterated that the government won't simply
"expend public funds" but will make sure "that help gets to the people
who actually need it and that we are accountable for doing that."
Martin links crisis to failed Kelowna accord
prime minister Paul Martin said the housing crisis in Attawapiskat
exemplifies the problems that his abandoned Kelowna agreement on
aboriginal quality of life was meant to address.
“The Kelowna accord was set up to deal with this very issue,” he said
Tuesday in an interview with CBC News. “As well as with education,
clean water, accountability and health care.”Former
Canadian prime minister Paul Martin speaks at the Canadian Embassy in
Washington, D.C., on Nov. 16. He says the Kelowna accord was a lost
opportunity. Kevin Lamarque/Reuters
November 2005, Martin, the premiers and aboriginal leaders met in
Kelowna, B.C., for the First Ministers Conference on Aboriginal Affairs.
The meeting resulted in a five-year, $5-billion plan to improve the
lives of First Nations, Métis and Inuit peoples.
But within days, Martin’s minority Liberal government was defeated,
triggering an election won by Stephen Harper’s Conservatives.
“Unfortunately, the government simply walked away from agreements
that had been made with the First Nations and aboriginal leadership and
all of the provinces and territories," Martin said.
He later put forward a private member's bill calling for the accord
to be honoured, which received royal assent. However, such bills cannot
compel the government to spend money and the Conservatives decided to
take their own course on native issues.
With files from the CBC's Terry Milewski and The Canadian Press