15 January 2013
ABORIGINAL JUSTICE REFLECTION: Attawapiskat audit
not the issue
by Chris Sabas
Chief Theresa Spence will continue her hunger strike, even after attending a “ceremonial”
meeting with Governor General David Johnston, Queen Elizabeth II’s representative
in Canada, on Friday 11 January. Chief Spence did not attend a meeting with
Prime Minister Stephen Harper, and some thirty chiefs, earlier in the day,
standing by her initial request that both Harper and Johnston be present.
the treaties, the British Crown would not have been able to enact legislation
to create Canada. Canada is a Treaty
and has international obligations to implement the Treaties in good faith that
brings honour to the Crown,” stated Chief Spence.
|photo by Chris Sabas|
affiliated with the Idle No More movement poured
onto the streets on the day of the anticipated meeting, with round dances,
songs and drums, for a nationwide callout known simply by its Twitter hashtag,
Earlier in the
week, Canada released results of a financial audit of Attawapiskat, showing that
from April 2005 to November 2011 the Department of Aboriginal Affairs and
Northern Development transferred $104 million to the remote community in
Northern Ontario to meet housing, education, sanitation, health care and other
needs. Because of overall sloppiness, and not malfeasance, auditors can only
account for nineteen percent of expenditures. Theresa Spence became Chief in fall
2010. She served as Deputy Chief beginning in 2007.
The question of
who is responsible for the sloppiness became the fodder for much discussion,
ridicule and mean-spirited commentary directed at Chief Spence. While determining
accountability is a worthy aim, it should not take precedence over correcting systemic
inequities. The figures at
issue in Attawapiskat total $11,355 per capita, whereas on
average, $24,000 is spent per person in Toronto. Moreover, the cost of living
in indigenous communities is much higher than the rest of Canada. For instance,
in Attawapiskat, six apples and four small bottles of juice currently cost
The majority of
Canada’s indigenous peoples live in extreme poverty and are sick and
tired of it.
This is what Idle No More is about. Indigenous children have the highest rates
of infant mortality, diabetes, malnutrition, alcoholism, drug dependency, abuse
and incarceration of any children in Canada.
government’s unreasonable response to images
of Attawapiskat residents living in tents and shacks without running water or
heating, and its effort to convince
Canadians to put the blame on the band council, or now, Chief Spence,
fuel the longstanding myth that Canada’s indigenous peoples “live off the
dole,” when the opposite is true: indigenous peoples subsidize Canada.
including Bills C-38 and C-45, enacted without advance consultation, prompted Chief
Spence’s bold, courageous action. Numerous Supreme Court decisions affirm her
position as one that the federal government, and private sector corporations
with an interest in indigenous lands and resources, have a duty to consult.
Chief Spence’s hunger strike is about the Christian issues of
justice and respect. Christian Peacemaker Teams remains committed to her and to
the aims of the Idle No More movement.