[captionpix imgsrc="http://netnewsledger.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/11/Attawapiskat-shack.jpg" captiontext="Attawapiskat - This is one of the homes that the First Nation sought to find a solution - Photo by Chris Kat" width="550" height="400"]
THUNDER BAY – Basic courtesy says when you do something wrong, or do something that harms another, you apologize. When the First Nation community of Attawapiskat declared a state of emergency, the solution was to place the community into Third Party Management. It is the business equal of receivership, where the day-to-day affairs of running the community were placed in the hands of the government manager.
A federal court judge has now ruled that move was not right. The federal Minister of Aboriginal Affairs, John Duncan is thinking over his next steps. What he should be doing is making a trip to Attawapiskat to make proper amends.
What Prime Minister Harper, Minister John Duncan, and the federal government do not seem able to understand is that by taking the path they did in the Attawapiskat housing crisis, they have demonstrated that they simply do not get it. They do not get how the relationship between First Nations communities and the federal government is still very fragile.
The Prime Minister apologized over the issue of Residential Schools – Stephen Harper should not have been the federal Prime Minister to issue that apology, it should have come from Jean Chretien, or Paul Martin, or for that matter Pierre Trudeau. It was way too long in coming.
However once that apology was made, moves forward needed to happen at a speed that demonstrated to Canada’s First Nations peoples that there was action behind those words.
There are many people who are certain that the lack of speed in action means a lack of depth to the words spoken by our federal leaders.
In Attawapiskat, the federal government’s move putting the community under the control of a government manager had the impact of putting a huge chill on First Nations across the country who might be facing a crisis. They now believe that if they tell the government there is a problem, they will be punished.
Worse yet the impact across the media and with Canadians in general that the actions of the federal government made raised the profile of racism and anger against First Nations peoples in our country.
The Prime Minister seems stuck on his line about not being happy about the results. “This government has spent some $90 million since coming to office just on Attawapiskat. That’s over $50,000 for every man, woman and child in the community. Obviously we’re not very happy that the results do not seem to have been achieved for that”.
If that is the total truth from Prime Minister Harper, then the truth is he needs to get himself up to Attawapiskat. His officials have been the ones who are failing and considering that the Prime Minister is noted for taking charge of all aspects of his government, it is likely time for some hands on examinations.
The federal judge ruling on the situation stated, “The housing situation at Attawapiskat was extensively covered in the media. This case started with accusations of political motive and retribution by the federal government, in the person of the Prime Minister and some Cabinet Ministers, against the AFN for the public embarrassment the housing situation caused. Those allegations were largely withdrawn and to the extent that they linger, the Court finds that there is no evidence that the Prime Minister or the Cabinet engaged in such reprehensible conduct.
“The problem in this case does not lie at the feet of the political masters but in the hands of the bureaucracy”.
The Judge found that it was the Assistant Deputy Minister and the officials in Aboriginal Affairs who made the wrong calls in this case, including putting the community under a government manager. This should offer the Prime Minister and the Aboriginal Affairs Minister the opportunity to make a real difference.
The sad reality however is that is unlikely to happen. That means that the message that tell the government there is a problem and you will be punished is the only message being sent by the Minister and by extension the Canadian government.
Canada and the Conservatives both deserve better.
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