The federal government’s response in Attawapiskat


AttawapiskatTHUNDER BAY – The federal government’s response in Attawapiskat is, in some ways, similar to the response to Hurricane Katrina by then U.S. President George W. Bush. Instead of being seen as caring and compasionate leaders, the Prime Minister and John Duncan, the Aboriginal Affairs Minister are being seen as a cold and uncaring persons. The Prime Minister remains steadfast in his commentary that the money is the issue. The Aboriginal Affairs Minister, in an interview on CBC television on Thursday appeared distant on the real human crisis that is happening.

During Hurricane Katrina, President Bush was pictured smiling for the media while pretending to play a guitar in California, before doing a fly-over of New Orleans. It was like the historic image of Nero fiddling while Rome burned.

Prime Minister Harper’s assertion on Attawapiskat that “The government has invested more than $90 million in this community and these results are unacceptable. That is why we are taking immediate action to help these people who are in need of immediate assistance”, is generating division. For the people living in Attawapiskat, the issues are many, but right now it is appearing that the government is more interested in afixing blame for the problem that really helping.

Regional Chief Toulouse states, “The money spent for these third party management firms could build houses in the community. Supporting the long term, sustainable economic growth and health of First Nations communities is certainly a goal of nation rebuilding – but it was not the point of the state of emergency declared by Attawapiskat. The Government is completely out of touch with reality and must work with the leadership and community and respond to the human tragedy in Attawapiskat.” The annual cost for the third party manager is likely to be $140,000.00 annually.

The good works that this government has done on the Aboriginal issues file is being eroded rapidly by the lack of human emotion and caring that it appears the Prime Minister and his Aboriginal Affairs Minister are demonstrating.

This is after all the government that finally started putting real effort and funding in place to build the new school that this community needs. The initial promise was made by then Minister Bob Nault under the Liberal government in 2000. That was over a decade ago. The Liberals made the promise and then ignored action. The Conservatives are also burning much of the good will they should have built up with the Residential School apology. That heartfelt apology came from the Conservatives.

The Liberals were under pressure for years to act, and never did while in power. Then Liberal leader Stephane Dion said, “As the leader of the Liberal Party of Canada, a party that was in government for more than 70 years in the 20th century, I acknowledge our role and our shared responsibility in this tragedy. I am deeply sorry. I apologize”.

The actions, rather than words of the Conservatives have seen $100 million more in funding for Aboriginal programs put in place. While the previous Liberal governments were likey more emotional and elequent in their words, their deeds were not equal to their promises.

Right now the Conservatives are looking like all that matters is the money. That strategy might work well with the conservative base, but under a majority government it almost appears that the Conservative are still operating like they were in a minority government. The Prime Minister has an opportunity, or perhaps had an opportunity to open up, and to show Canadians his human side. That he has closed over like cold accountant is not what is needed right now.

The children in First Nations across Canada are seeing a cold and distant Prime Minister, and that message is likely to stay with them for the rest of their lives. What Canadians are seeing right now is an opportunity lost to get the situation on our Northern First Nations set on the right track.

It makes the entire tragedy of Attawapiskat all the worse.

For Prime Minister Harper the message should be get yourself up to Attawapiskat. Show the people you, and your government care. Take the time to meet and listen. Its important.

James Murray
Chief Content Officer

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