Attawapiskat – The First Nation is now concerned that payroll and other essential payments will not be made

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Mushkehowuk Grand ChiefMushkegowuk- “While Federal Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Duncan is adamant in his position that the Attawapiskat First Nation be placed under Third Party Management, families are still residing in tents and substandard shelters, overcrowded conditions, and a fire trap waiting to happen in trailers that house over 90 people,” state the Mushkegowuk Council in a press release issued earlier today. “The most recent incident occurred when AANDC transferred over $1.5 million to BDO Dunwoody that is specifically earmarked for specific essential services such as education”.

The Council adds, “The First Nation is now concerned that payroll and other essential payments will not be made. If certain payments are going to be made, the First Nation is concerned that certain unilateral actions will be made by the Third Party Manager that will be detrimental to the ongoing operations of the First Nation and its citizens”.

The Chief and Council have taken legal actions to prevent the Third Party Management, and told the appointed Third Party Manager to leave the community last December.

The Grand Chief of the regional Mushkegowuk Council signed an official Declaration of Emergency on October 28, 2011 as a result of the deplorable living conditions of people in Attawapiskat, Kashechewan and Fort Albany.

The Grand Chief states, “The Attawapiskat First Nation received national media attention when a Youtube video was shown publicly of dozens of families living in tents, shacks and a multi trailer complex with little or no fire and safety protection. This media attention forced the federal Aboriginal Affairs department to provide for remedial assistance by providing funding to renovate existing dilapidated buildings, renovate a dormant Treatment Center and procure trailers for shipment to Attawapiskat via the winter road in the coming weeks”. The Chief is concerned that what he calls “the band-aid approach by the federal government will not provide for sustainable solutions to her community and that these measures will cause further issues in the future”.

The Treatment Facility, which is located several kilometres outside of the community had what were determined needed upgrades made before Christmas.

The Mushkegowuk Council says, “At the same time, the federal Minister of Aboriginal Affairs John Duncan took control of all financial decision making away from the Chief and Council, appointing instead a Third Party Manager at a cost to Canadian taxpayers of approximately $20,000.00 per month. The Attawapiskat First Nation sought a court injunction on this action by the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs on December 15, 2011 and this matter is still before the court.

“Chief Theresa Spence is insistent that the imposition of Third Party Management is morally and legally wrong and is steadfast in her opposition to the actions taken by the federal Minister of Aboriginal Affairs. At the December 15, 2011 meeting between Minister Duncan and Chief Spence, the Minister made it clear to the Chief that the Third Party Management imposition was to oversee the housing crisis in her community. Chief Spence is now bewildered at the actions taken by the Minister and the Third Party Manager and that is to manage ALL aspects of the Attawapiskat First Nation operations including governance, education, social programming, capital, operations and maintenance of the communities infrastructure”.

The Chief has issued a letter to BDO Dunwoody, the Third Party Manager to release the $1.5 million provided to the Attawapiskat First Nation for the provision of services for the month of January and subsequent monthly transfers to the Attawapiskat First Nation to ensure that essential governance and operations can continue without interruption.

The Third Party Manager has refused the request of the Chief citing his contract with AANDC.

Chief Spence and her Council continue to feel as if they are being punished by the Minister for the crisis that exists in her community.

Chief Spence states she would “Welcome a comprehensive audit to show government and the general public that the Attawapiskat First Nation operates in a transparent and accountable manner with sound management and financial management systems in place”.

The Minister of Aboriginal Affairs has responded formally to the Chiefs position in this regard and the First Nation is cooperating with the AANDC retained auditing firm for an examination of the records of the First Nation to alleviate concerns about the high costs associated with providing services in a northern remote environment.

The Chief and Council of the Attawapiskat First Nation continue to discuss all legal and political strategies with their advisors.

Meanwhile, the Chiefs of the Kashechewan First Nation and Fort Albany First Nation have reiterated their call for emergency assistance for their communities as well.

Following the October 28/11 Declaration of Emergency signed by the Grand Chief, the Chiefs of Kashechewan and Fort Albany had agreed that the immediate focus of the emergency should be Attawapiskat due to the enormity of the crisis there. With temperatures now in the minus 30’s and 40’s , the Chiefs are now calling on the federal and provincial governments to take immediate action on the housing crisis in Fort Albany and Kashechewan as well. Both Chiefs of Fort Albany and Kashechewan have had initial discussions with AANDC regarding the housing conditions in their communities including Chief Jonathon Solomon’s usage of a 2007 agreement with Canada to further Kashechewan’s housing and infrastructure issues.

Both Chief Solomon’s of Kashechewan and Fort Albany First Nations including the Grand Chief of the Mushkegowuk Council continue to stand by their northern neighbor Attawapiskat in their continuing efforts to deal with the crisis in that community including the imposition of third party management by the federal Minister.