ABORIGINAL JUSTICE REFLECTION: Attawapiskat audit not the issue

15 January 2013
ABORIGINAL JUSTICE REFLECTION: Attawapiskat audit not the issue

by Chris Sabas

Attawapiskat 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.

"Without the treaties, the British Crown would not have been able to enact legislation to create Canada. Canada is a Treaty successor state and has international obligations to implement the Treaties in good faith that brings honour to the Crown," stated Chief Spence.

  photo by Chris Sabas

People 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, #J11.

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 $23.50.

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.

The Canadian 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.

Recent legislation, 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.