The mishandling of the situation in Attawapiskat is coming home to roost


John DuncanTHUNDER BAY – Editorial – The mishandling of the situation in Attawapiskat is coming home to roost on the desk of Minister John Duncan. The Minister doesn’t seem to be capable of comprehending that the millions of dollars expended on modular homes isn’t going to solve the problem this winter. There are no sites for the homes. There is nothing prepared to put in the waterlines, sewage lines, and electrical service for heat into these new homes. The Minister is claiming that his third party manager is simply awaiting the information from the First Nation so the sites can be prepared.

Sources tell NNL that it is very possible that the power grid in Attawapiskat won’t be able to handle the demands of the new modular homes. The Third Party Manager who Minister Duncan has credited with making the purchase of those homes, is likely to wish that that credit was given elsewhere. However the move into third party management which appears to be a hamfisted reaction from the Minister, who has yet to visit to community since the crisis started, is now set to hamper the school year for all the students from Attawapiskat. It is interesting, the Ontario Progressive Conservatives have hammered Ontario’s Ring of Fire Co-ordinator for never having set foot in the Ring of Fire. Yet the federal Aboriginal Affairs Minister appears to be following the same playbook. I digress.

When the Minister placed Attawapiskat in Third Party Management, MP Charlie Angus shared that by making that decision, Minister John Duncan was putting the school year at risk for all the students from Attawapiskat. There are agreements to fund education that Angus asserted in early January which were going to be broken by the Minister’s actions.

Angus stated, “The Christmas break gave Duncan the chance to change the channel and move the story elsewhere. Instead, the Conservatives made claims on the Healing Lodge they couldn’t back up. They are locked in a fight with the community about the Third Party Manager taking over control of the education budget”.

“When Duncan says the Band is failing to supply ‘information’ he doesn’t say, or doesn’t understand, that writing cheques at the Education Authority includes intervening in agreements with: teachers, post-secondary off reserve students, high school student tuition agreements in Timmins-North Bay, boarding house arrangements, supplies for the portables, etc, etc,” continued Angus. “Having a third party dude from WInnipeg take control of every education agreement is unnecessary and will lead to numerous problems. As it stands now, if the Band doesn’t comply, these education agreements and payments will be nullified”.

Watching Minister Duncan during the Crown First Nations Gathering, one senses that Duncan would be an excellent Parliamentary Assistant, rather than the Minister. Coming in to give his speech to the Gathering, you could see everyone in the audience looking around. Duncan was late walking in. His words were good, but his actions have in effect caused damage to the relationships between the Government and First Nations.

In Question Period, Minister Duncan often appears like a deer caught in the headlights. Wednesday during Question Period, Duncan first tried to say the concerns raised by Charlie Angus were all fabrications, and added he couldn’t comment about a matter which was before the courts. Then in his supplementary, he proceeded to answer the question he first said was a fabrication and he couldn’t comment on. It all makes for a very confusing process.

The Liberal leader, the NDP leader and a score of officials have all made the trip to Attawapiskat to see the conditions and get a feel for the community’s problems first hand. Minister Duncan and the Prime Minister have not made the journey. Perhaps it is time for Assembly of First Nations National Chief Shawn Atleo to invite Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Duncan to come with him to Attawapiskat?

Maybe by getting “boots on the ground” and seeing for himself that this is a community that is trying really hard, and that this constant blame game isn’t helping will allow the Minister and the First Nation to honestly demonstrate that Prime Minister Harper is serious about making a real difference in Canada’s First Nations.

James Murray
Chief Content Officer

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