Our housing, we have a huge backlog in housing – Chief Ignace Gull

AttawapiskatTHUNDER BAY – “Our housing, we have a huge backlog in housing our members which consists of families, single parents, bachelors, seniors and the disabled, for people who require medical attention and other special needs.”

“Some cases have 12 to 17 people sharing a 24 by 36 bungalow without indoor plumbing. And we are forced to dump our sewage into our open pits and use our outdoor privies at 30 to 40 below winter temperatures”.

“The subsidy that’s provided by the federal government doesn’t allow the First Nation to provide good housing and to meet the standards in terms of health and safety”.

Those statements on Attawapiskat sound like they could have been said last week by Chief Christine Spence.

They were not.

They were recorded by the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples on June 9, 1992 in a presentation by Chief Ignace Gull who was the Chief of the First Nation. (Source: Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples)

Almost twenty years ago, the information that Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Duncan says he wasn’t aware of as recently as three weeks ago was being reported to the federal government by a Royal Commission.

“I asked the province whether they would consider to gear their housing program to meet the needs on reserve housing. Their response is that it is the responsibility of the federal government. I wasn’t asking for free housing. I know some people who can afford those type of houses.”

Back in 1992, current interim federal Liberal leader Bob Rae was the Premier of Ontario. Yesterday after visiting Attawapiskat, Bob Rae implored the Prime Minister to visit Attawapiskat and said, “We talk a lot about the Third World, we talk about Haiti, we talk about poverty in other parts of the world. This is our Third World. It’s right here at home. These are our fellow citizens.”

Interesting words when you contrast them to the actions of his government back in 1992, when the response was to put the onus on the federal government.

Right now, there is a massive exercise in finger pointing happening over Attawapiskat. None of that is generating the needed change.

The Prime Minister has stood by his original comments. “Since coming to office, this government has spent some $90 million just on Attawapiskat. That is over $50,000 for every man, woman and child in the community. Obviously, we are not very happy that the results do not seem to have been achieved for that. We are concerned about that. We have officials looking into it and taking action.”

That $90 million dollar figure has been broken down and examined. It includes all the money for education, and every service needed in the community. There will be a forensic audit performed on the books for Attawapiskat. It is likely in a year or two, after the results are known, that the hope in some circles will be that people have forgotten.

It is all well and good for the Prime Minister to expect that there should be value for money. The people of Attawapiskat, and the people of Canada expect that too. In fact Attawapiskat, under co-management until the third party manager was installed by the Conservatives was by definition reporting everything to the federal government already. Each of the financial reports on the Attawapiskat website

The job of leadership is not just to look at the balance sheet. One of the roles of leadership is to get to the front of the situation. The Prime Minister and his Aboriginal Affairs Minister have not visited Attawapiskat. Their task appears more one of working to get this situation which is making their government look bad off the front pages. The reality here is that in a crisis there is opportunity. The opportunity here is that right now, the Conservative Government, which to be blunt has done more than just talk than the previous government on many areas, could step up to the plate and make a really long-term difference here.

Great leaders will be remembered as much for their deeds and actions, as they are for their words. In the case of Canada’s Aboriginal people, the opportunity is there. Where is the real leadership?

James Murray
Chief Content Officer