“This issue is about quality of life and health and safety, it’s about human rights…”

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AttawapiskatTORONTO – The Chiefs of Ontario (COO) is a coordinating body for the 133 First Nations located within the boundaries of the Province of Ontario. On Thursday evening the Chiefs of Ontario issued a media statement.

The Ontario Chiefs state, “At a time when all First Nation citizens and Canadians are being encouraged to rally support behind the community and people in Attawapiskat First Nation, the Conservative Government has continued to point fingers and assign blame around an issue many Canadians know little about.

The situation in Attawapiskat has emerged as a result of ongoing and systemic oppression, colonization held in place by the Indian Act and continual interference by the federal government, but the focus of the issue must remain on the health, safety and human dignity of the citizens of Attawapiskat First Nation – not financial management”.

“This issue is about quality of life and health and safety, it’s about human rights and it’s about supporting one another. This issue is not about finger pointing and it’s definitely not about third party management,” stated Ontario Regional Chief Angus Toulouse.

The Conservative government sent a message yesterday by placing Attawapiskat Chief and Council under third party management, but it wasn’t the one of respect, support and reconciliation the community needed. Third party management will not meet the needs identified and required in the community. In fact, history has indicated that the only people that typically benefit when third party managers enter First Nations communities are high priced consulting firms. Regional Chief Toulouse said, “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.”

Yesterday, Prime Minister Harper stood in the House of Commons and stated that $92 million dollars has been spent on Attawapiskat First Nation, with his main concern being an accounting of these funds. What the Prime Minister did not report to Canadians is that the money is allocated over a 6 year period, which amounts to $13 million a year and the majority of that money is earmarked for specific programs and services. Much needed education programming consumes roughly half of the $13 million on a yearly basis. Canadians also do not know that approximately 6% of that money per year goes towards housing and amounts to $1 million dollars. On average, $1 million dollars will build four houses in Attawapiskat due to location and costs to bring building materials to the community. “Based on these numbers it’s clear that the Prime Minister needs to look at his own department and how the government unilaterally approaches the fiscal realities that our communities face on a daily basis,” stated Regional Chief Toulouse.

Regional Chief Toulouse added that he was not interested in perpetuating the blame game. “Now is the time for action in the short term and solutions in the longer term. Solutions that last – are constructed together, just as they were in our original relationships with one another. Honouring the Treaties and a Treaty implementation process will form the basis of real solutions for our communities.” Treaties are agreements made between our Nations and with the Crown, the spirit and intent of which determines how the lands and resources are to be shared. The provincial and federal governments collect significant revenues from First Nations lands and resources. First Nations have expressed their desire to be full partners in the fair and equitable management of the great wealth generated from the natural resources of our shared lands. “Our generosity and willingness to share our resources has made Canada one of the richest countries in the world,” stated Chief Toulouse, “Unfortunately, we see our citizens become the poorest of the poor while all around us government and industry exploit our resources to enrich themselves at our expense.”

Regional Chief Toulouse shared his hope that Canadians understand the human element here and that the citizens in Attawapiskat deserve an approach that respects their human rights and ultimately honours the Treaty relationship and responsibilities. “The people of Attawapiskat are no different than others in this country who may be suffering distress and pain. We ask that their basic human rights and the honour of the Treaty relationship and responsibilities are upheld. Leadership is not about shallow words filled with blame and contempt, leadership is seeing and acting upon opportunities to address the needs of your citizens, right wrongs and make constructive decisions – one step at a time,” concluded Chief Toulouse.

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