Attawapiskat – Court rules against federal Conservatives on third party management

[captionpix imgsrc=”http://netnewsledger.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/atthome2.jpg” captiontext=”Modular Home headed to Attawapiskat in February 2012 photo by Emma A. Williams” width=”620″ height=”413″]

OTTAWA – Attawapiskat First Nation was thrust into a media storm last year when the community declared a state of emergency over a housing crisis. The federal Conservative Government responded by putting the community into third party management.

The First Nation took Ottawa to court over the move. The courts have brought down a decision on this case. “This judicial review confirms, if such confirmation were needed, that decisions made in the glare of publicity and amidst politically charged debate do not always lead to a reasonable resolution of the relevant issue,” according to Justice Michael Phelan.

Chief Spence stated that “Our community continues to recover from the effects of that action, financially, and in terms of our Treaty relationship with Canada” in reaction to the decision.

“Our members continue to struggle with the consequences of chronic and discriminatory underfunding affecting our First Nation, like most others. The housing crisis, which continues, was but one of these consequences. We look forward to Canada working more effectively and collaboratively with our leadership, staff, and members. We hope that the health, security and prosperity enjoyed by our non-Aboriginal neighbours in our territory and throughout Canada will someday be enjoyed by our children. Our honour and the honour of Canada and the Crown depends on our respecting and strengthening our treaty relationship”.

A spokesperson for the federal Minister John Duncan stated, “Since 2006 our government has spent over $90 million on the Attawapiskat First Nation. Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada will continue to work with the chief and council in developing long-term solutions to broader challenges, including the development of a housing strategy and updating its emergency plan”.

For the previous twelve years, Attawapiskat had been under co-management.

The federal department of Aboriginal Affairs defines co-management as, “Co-Managed (i.e. expert resource hired by the First Nation): Collaboratively, the Co-manager and the First Nation work to address the causes of the default and then to identify and develop the necessary capacity to prevent recurrence.
Assembly of First Nations (AFN) National Chief Shawn A-in-chut Atleo responded to today’s Federal Court decision declaring the federal appointment of a third-party manager to address the housing crisis in Attawapiskat First Nation as unreasonable.

“First Nation leaders from across Canada and I have stood in support of the leadership and citizens of Attawapiskat First Nation as they exercise their rights and responsibilities to address the challenges in their community,” said AFN National Chief Shawn Atleo. “Today’s Federal Court decision underscores the important need for First Nation governments to be supported and respected to make the decisions that impact their peoples and their lands.”

In its judicial review of the federal appointment of a third-party manager to the community of Attawapiskat last fall, the Federal Court ruled that the decision by Aboriginal Affairs officials was “contrary to law” and “unreasonable in all the circumstances of this case”. The ruling basically establishes that in reaction to heightened media and public attention AANDC officials imposed a heavy handed, colonial remedy when financial management was not in question, rather, that a specific request had been made for operational assistance in managing a housing crisis. The ruling points out the lack of substantiation for decisions within AANDC which raises concerns about transparency and accountability.

The ruling noted that the relationship between the federal government and First Nations is government to government and that “While treaty rights are not directly at issue, treaty and Crown relationship plays an underlying role. This situation engages the honour of the Crown.”

“It is clear the current approach must change, and this is what First Nations and I have been consistently calling for,” said National Chief Atleo. “This decision provides further evidence in support of First Nations call for treaty implementation, government to government relations including new fiscal arrangements with Canada. We need to move beyond harmful practices like third party management, to a relationship based on mutual accountability.”

At the December 2011 AFN Special Chiefs Assembly in Ottawa, Chiefs unanimously expressed their support for Attawapiskat First Nation through Resolution #46-2011, and called on the federal government to work with First Nations on creating sustainable joint solutions for the future as opposed to unilateral actions, such as the imposition of third party management without involving the community, that undermine the authority of Chief and Council.

AFN submitted evidence in support of the Attawapiskat First Nations in the proceedings.

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