What The Attawapiskat Audit, Theresa Spence’s Hunger Strike And ‘Idle No More’ Share In Common
On Saturday, former Liberal Prime Minister Paul Martin made pilgrimage to visit with Theresa Spence who is now in the fourth week of her diet which she prefers to call a hunger strike. Based on the historical record, it is my understanding that hunger strikes don’t involve taking vitamins, eating fish broth which contains a fair degree of nutrition and have the odd snack throughout the day as Chief Spence has acknowledged doing but diets often do.
After meeting with the Attawapiskat Chief and with his usual lack of timing, Mr. Martin declared her an “inspiration for all Canadians.” One wonders how much of an inspiration to Canadians he feels she is today after release of the Deloitte audit of her financial management on her reserve.
The story of Attawapiskat is now so common place knowledge that it hardly bares repeating. It is a tiny reserve of 300 homes that came into the public eye just over a year ago when the abysmal living conditions on that reserve were revealed to Canadians.
Almost immediately, criticism of the government began.
Opposition parties were outraged and condemned the current Conservative Government although those who had been in previous administrations had done no more during their tenure. The media wrote angst-filled editorials and aired countless overviews and commentary, all of it blaming government.
Then the CBC’s Adrienne Arsenault did a follow up story on Attawapiskat last January and it started to change the narrative for some although not for all. Some continued to wallow in self-delusion to support their own agendas.
It was clear from the CBC report that there was more to the Attawapiskat story than government and the Indian Act. Something was clearly broken at the band level and Chief Theresa Spence who had started the whole ruckus was long on blaming government turned out to be short on answers about her own management.
Former Aboriginal Affairs Minister Chuck Strahl, who had to deal with the mismanagement and similar lack of accounting of federal and provincial funds for the Aboriginal University in Saskatchewan, is on the record declaring that the situation in Attawapiskat is not unique.
“There are a good number of them, like Attawapiskat, that it just seems to be difficult to do the basics, and then that raises red flags in the community and for the government,”
Typically, however, despite the fact that it is becoming fairly common knowledge that the problems on Attiwapiskat, like many reserves, has nothing to do with government or the level of funding provided and everything to do with band management, the opposition parties and activists have once again rallied around the flag of hypocrisy.
They have flocked to meet with Chief Spence to voice solidarity with her concerns and to report on her issues and they even now, in the face of this latest audit, struggle to find ways to rationalize and justify what in some circles would be labeled corruption.
Having elevated her to the same stature as Gandhi, it is understandably difficult for them to accept that she has more in common with a Tammany Hall politician than the Mahatma.
If an audit for a non-aboriginal community was released with the scathing details of the Attawapiskat Audit, there would already be a criminal fraud investigation underway. Nobody, progressive or conservative would tolerate this level of gross, willful mismanagement and self-enriching handling of monies entrusted to them.
Some, including Theresa Spence, accuse the government of purposely timing release of the audit to discredit her although I doubt that anyone, let alone the government, could do more to discredit her than she herself has done. The allegation is inaccurate and is itself a specious attempt to distract from the audit’s findings.
There is a legal process which the government must follow in terms of dealing with release of an audit. The first step, once the audit is completed, is to notify all concerned parties and share with them a copy of the audit. They are then given a period of time to study and comment on the audit and it is only after that period that the Minister will sign it off.
The government must, by law, release the audit to the public within 90 days of the minister signing off.
Chief Spence was provided with a copy of the audit on August 28, 2012 and along with all other concerned parties, given until the middle of October to study and comment on its findings. At that time the Minister did sign it off which started the clock ticking on its public release. I happen to know from my contacts that the legally required drop dead date for release of the audit was January 15, 2013.
If anything, the government delayed the audit’s release until the last possible moment to try and avoid having it become part of the narrative of the latest round of confrontation and protest.
This won’t stop the critics and those who try to deflect the truth, of course. The truth, when it doesn’t suit their purposes, can be quite inconvenient. Just ask NDP MP Charlie Angus who would be apoplectic in his condemnation of a Conservative politician who had been exposed by an audit as scathing as that which has exposed the mismanagement of Theresa Spence.
He has dismissed it as nothing more than sloppy record keeping. Sloppy record keeping? Aside from the excessive amounts she pays herself and her live-in boyfriend, the details of the audit reveal far more than sloppy bookkeeping.
The most significant findings of the report included:
- Monies earmarked for housing were redirected to other unidentified purposes or to repay loans
- Expenditures were authorized without the available funds to cover them
- Over 80% of all financial transactions lacked proper supporting documentation
- Over 60% of all financial transactions lacked any documentation whatsoever or even an indication for what purpose the money was used.
- No time sheets, job descriptions or other supporting documentation or explanation as to their purpose were provided before checks were signed and distributed to various employees.
- Some minutes of financial meetings were never signed or reproduced in hard copy as required. Some minutes were missing which means there is no record of decisions taken for expenditures.
- No budgets or financial plans were compiled for the fiscal year to properly plan the management of $34 million. Bookkeeping was incomplete, insufficient and inaccurate. The financial manager responsible for maintaining these records is Chief Spence’s live-in boyfriend who is paid $850/day for basically ignoring the most fundamental principles of financial management.
- CMHC noted abnormal and accelerated deterioration of the housing stock but the band council did not share this information with Indian and Northern Affairs. The agreements signed by the band, including maintaining an adequate replacement reserve fund to replenish housing as needed, were ignored and money meant for maximizing the life cycle of houses was used for other purposes.
Chief Spence knew the details of this audit back in August of 2012 and it was clear to her that there was going to be serious criticism not only of how she managed Attawapiskat but of how she had deliberately misled the Canadian people when she blamed the government for living conditions on the reserve.
She knew that there were already questions about her driving around town in her Cadiallac Escalade while her people lived in shacks. She knew there were already questions about the huge amount of money she and her boyfriend paid themselves and she knew there was a day of reckoning coming.
And that’s what this is, a reckoning, not the smear campaign she and her declining number of supporters have tried to paint the criticism as being.
It’s called accountability and Chief Theresa Spence is accountable for the money that has been misspent and unaccounted for at Attawapiskat. She is accountable for the misinformation she has fed the media and the Canadian tax payer who trusted what she was telling them.
Idle No More will ignore all of this, of course, and will continue its disorganized and confused program of protests and demands. It too, like the Attawapiskat Audit reveals a major problem with trying to resolve aboriginal issues. There is no agreement among the aboriginal community on what it hopes to achieve or what it wants to negotiate.
Until that is resolved, expecting to achieve anything let alone anything worthwhile is a fool’s errand.
There has been a considerable amount of goodwill in Canada towards the fair settling of aboriginal issues but that goodwill is being squandered and frittered away on pointless and dangerous blockades, corrupt and cynical practices by people like Theresa Spence and the same tired old blame game.
Some, like Pam Palmater Chair of Aboriginal Governance at Ryerson University, have gone so far as to accuse the current government of a deliberate and planned genocide of aboriginal peoples through the legislation they have enacted so let’s have a quick look at that legislation.
- Bill S-212: The First Nations Self-Government Recognition Bill. — An Act providing for the recognition of self-governing First Nations of Canada
- Bill S-8: The Safe Drinking Water for First Nations Act: legislation designed to ensure safe and potable water on all reserves
- Bill S-6: The First Nations Elections Act: a bill designed to provide more stable and effective self-government on First Nations’ reserves.
- Bill S-2: The Family Homes on Reserve and Matrimonial Interests or Right Act: seeks to provide basic rights and protections to individuals on reserves during the relationship, in the event of a relationship breakdown, and on the death of a spouse or common-law partner regarding the family home and other matrimonial interests or rights.
And the one that has really upset folks like Theresa Spence,
- Bill C-27: The First Nations Financial Transparency Act – An act to support democratic, transparent and accountable First Nation governments by requiring the public disclosure of remuneration and expenses of chiefs and councillors and First Nation’s audited consolidated financial statements.
It’s small wonder that Stephen Harper stands accused of trampling the rights of aboriginal peoples and inflicting genocide when he has moved to try and improve drinking water, provide more democracy and financial transparency by band leaders to the people they represent and moved to try an protect families living on reserves.
It is almost enough to help you understand the need for all those blockades and even Theresa Spence’s hunger diet but only if you’re clueless.
It is all a shell game by people arguing among themselves over the spoils of war. Neither the government nor the Indian Act are the problem and neither are the people of Canada who are constantly being threatened, intimidated and bullied by aboriginal protesters and thugs as they continue to throw billions into the First Nations to achieve far less than intended.
On this one thing, Idle No More and I agree. It is an aboriginal issue and it is time for the aboriginal community to accept that. It is time for First Nations to face up to the division, misinformation, corruption and fuzzy concepts of what it wants before wasting any more time and money trying to negotiate anything with the Canadian government.
As for Theresa Spence, it’s long past time for her to pack her vitamins, her fish broth, her snacks, her demands and her shattered credibility into her Cadillac Escalade and simply go home. She has nothing to say that is of any value to Canadians or even to her own community.
Go home, Theresa. You’ve done enough.
© 2012 Maggie’s Bear
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