Attawapiskat is not a Piñata


THUNDER BAY – Editorial – The northern Ontario community of Attawapiskat is not a Piñata. Yet the attacks on the people of Attawapiskat continue. The federal Conservatives pulled the third party manager, and did not offer up any real answers as to why they did so. The federal government did not present any evidence of financial misdeeds to a judge in the court case they just lost.

One might think that means that the issue should be allowed to start to heal.

Sadly the faux anger has not stopped. When you are hosting a ‘political red meat feast’ for your supporters, asking them if they want some facts to put on top of their meat takes too much time. The attacks and the misinformation that some pundits seem determined to spread continue.

One might think that the facts of the matter could be set aside and the federal government and the First Nation work to rebuild their battered relationship.

That is not the case for some. Sun Media personality Ezra Levant, for example, has been using the community of Attawapiskat as political red meat to throw to his ravenous audience on ‘The Source’ on Sun News and in his column in the Sun newspapers.

Levant’s style is powerful and outspoken.

If you didn’t have a penchant for fact-checking you might figure he was always right. Likely he honestly believes that he is right.

In fact he presents his version of the story like a person baking a cake, carefully picking the ingredients to make it look the best. It is likely a very bitter cake. But the icing job likely to the untrained eye looks good.

In my opinion, he has lots of verba non facta. Words not deeds for those who do not understand Latin.

In an editorial published in the Sun newspaper chain, Levant opines, “Last fall, the Attawapiskat Indian reserve declared a state of emergency. Despite $90 million poured into the reserve over five years by the federal government — into a town with fewer than 500 families — there were dozens of band members living in shanties and shacks, and even some families in tents.

“The consensus media responded like Pavlov’s dog. They knew the official narrative: Attawapiskat needed more money. The problems were clearly caused by the heartlessness of the Conservatives who were mean at best, and probably racist, too”.

The facts that Attawapiskat receives funding that covers healthcare, education, roads, and all other services as a part of that money was overlooked.

If my calculator is right, that works out to $9000 per resident per year.

Consider that in Ontario the province spends $14,000 per student on education. One might start thinking that the kids in Attawapiskat are getting burnt by the federal government.

Not all the homes are new in the community, and there is still a shortage of housing.

Consider that housing is something that falls under the responsibilities of the Federal Government, and then mix in the cost of shipping anything to Attawapiskat and the reality is the money isn’t the amounts needed.

If Toronto were to receive $9,000 per person per year in government funding, likely the results would be similar.

The fact that Attawapiskat was already in the process of ordering the mobile homes that several weeks later the government manager in fact ordered is completely ignored. That the Chief and Council were already presenting solutions that the Government delayed is not the kind of red meat that feeds a hungry feeding frenzy of conservatives.

Attawapiskat housing
Modular homes in Attawapiskat – Photo by Chris Kat

Even notice how when you are ranting and raving and angry that you often make far less sense?

Same goes in writing, or in any commentary.

It is easier when there is a problem, to find people or organizations to blame. Fixing the problem means real work. That appears outside of the process for people like Mr. Levant and for those who march along side.

Levant continued “That was the official line of the Media Party, and it was regurgitated again more than a week ago by the Court Party. Michael Phelan, a liberal judge on the Federal Court, declared that the problems on the reserve were most definitely not the fault of financial mismanagement or “incorrect” spending, and so the financial manager sent there by Ottawa to look into the mess had to leave.

“Case closed.”

The fact that the Conservatives pulled their third party manager and didn’t present a single piece of evidence in court that pointed to any financial impropriety is not mentioned. That would likely burn the political red meat to a crisp. In my opinion, that would likely weaken the rant.

It also, in my opinion, led to this Sun writer jumping completely off the fact train to leap into rhetoric and hype.

If the facts are not working, start yelling louder!

Levant writes, “Except that, right in the middle of this so-called state of emergency, when people were in leaky houses and tents, the Attawapiskat Indian band — with three chiefs and 18 band councillors on the payroll — made an important financial decision.

“They needed a new ice resurfacer for their hockey rink.”

Back on December 17, 2011, I wrote “For example Ezra Levant from Sun News was on the network other day berating the Attawapiskat First Nation over how they set their priorities. The political pundit and television host was commenting on how purchasing a new Zamboni® ice resurfacing machine, which was alluded to as federal funds being misdirected, was a perfect example of that out of touch with reality attitude”.
Mr. Levant was wrong then in December 2011, and he is still wrong in August 2012.

To pour a little hard cold reality into the mix, the money for the Olympia Ice Resurfacer was raised in community bingos, and other fund-raisers. It was the residents and parents of the young people who stepped up and did for themselves. Just like hockey moms and dads, soccer moms and dad, and all parents and relatives support their young people.

Sorry to burn the red meat – but the Chief and Council were not a part of that decision. It was the parents.
The facts are not hard to find, they are on the website for the Attawapiskat First Nation. Just as the First Nation’s financial statements are published online for all to see.

It is a prime example of how ridiculous repeated claims in the media can be harmful and hurtful to the people in communities like Attawapiskat.

To offer Mr. Levant some real perspective, in northern communities through the long cold winter, playing hockey is an activity that is a positive.

Heck one might think the hyper-Canadian patriots like Mr. Levant might encourage having young people engaged in healthy and positive activities.

Research has shown that having safe places for young people to gather is a key to reducing harmful activities.

Hockey is one of those kinds of activities.

Mr. Levant in raging at the parents is actually attacking the exact kind of actions that parents around the world do for their children.

I would not go so far as to suggest that the writer and Sun Media are somehow ‘anti-family’ but that is the same opinionated approach that taking opinion and peddling it as fact is doing.

The simple facts of the Ice Resurfacer have been made very plain, Attawapiskat released the information online, including the invoice and the cancelled cheque.

Mr. Levant continues his attack, “They haven’t rebuilt their school up there, since it was torn down because of diesel fumes. They’re living in shacks. (Well, not the chief, of course.)”

No Ezra, the chief is living in the former police office and jail. She is doing that and has offered up her home for others to live in as well. That fact is online and could have been uncovered, but here to save time is the link; Where does Chief Spence live?

In full flight, the Sun’s knight rides on, “But forget about such trivial problems. These clowns needed a new ice resurfacer.

“You can see a copy of the invoice for it on this page: $96,089 for an Olympia model ice resurfacer.
“Now, a nitpicker might point out that the state of emergency was not formally declared until a few weeks after the Olympia order was made. But that’s the thing. There may have been a housing emergency in the mind of the media. But the highest priority for the band was their hockey emergency. So that deal for the ice resurfacer still went ahead”.

Ezra, there you go again; back to the Olympia Ice Resurfacer. Actually it is positive to see that instead of calling it a Zamboni© as he has for nine months, inaccurately, he got the brand name right finally.
One wonders, from the ivory towers that this pundit glares down at the people of Attawapiskat from, has the author considered that if the First Nation had taken the funds raised by the people, and put them toward the housing crisis, what the reaction might have been?

Or is this apparent advocate for more freedom suggesting that government should, in the case of an emergency, simply start confiscating things from the people?

Maybe in the ‘blue coloured glasses’ view that Mr. Levant has, it would be alright for a government to simply grab the money that residents have saved up. Almost sounds like something a right-winger would oppose, or was it a Freudian Slip by this Conservative pundit?

Wonder what the response would be if the Canadian Government showed up at the Sun writer’s parking spot to load up his vehicle because they needed it for something else?

Levant continued, “Attawapiskat, if you look at a map, isn’t just down the road from the dealer selling ice resurfacers in Ontario. In fact, it isn’t down a road at all — it’s accessible only by plane and by boat.
“So the new ice resurfacer was trucked from Elmira, Ont., to Cochrane. Then it was put on a train to Moosonee. Then it was put on a barge and sailed up to Attawapiskat.”

In my opinion, the company had a contract with the people in Attawapiskat.

One might even think it was legally binding, but apparently in the world of this right wing advocate, people can simply break contracts with private companies?

Something a little unusual for someone who might want readers and viewers to think they are ‘pro-business’.

Can you imagine if advertisers on Sun News were to contact the company after contracting and running an ad to inform them, they didn’t think it worked so they don’t have to pay for it?

Incredible. But perhaps a look inside at how some hard right conservatives really look at the rights of business? Heck, break an agreement, if it is good for me and bad for you, that works?

Mr. Levant continues, gushing “Look, when there’s a hockey emergency going on, you spare no expense. Even if you wind up spending as much shipping that beast up north as you did to buy it in the first place. The band, on its website, says money raised through community bingo paid for the new Olympia, while proceeds from Casino Rama went towards the freight charges and the barge costs were donated by the transportation firm. Don’t like it? Think maybe they should have used the money to patch up a leaky house or rebuild the school? You’re clearly a racist.”

This is classic. When you find something that you think your audience will wolf down, your reddest rawest red meat in this case, you keep beating that drum, hoping that none of your followers will dare think for themselves.

After all, in many cases throughout history there are examples of how leaders rail over and over, on and on over things that are not real or true.

In the case of shipping things to the north, distance and geography demonstrate the issues regarding cost. Shipping to Attawapiskat and other northern communities is expensive.

It’s a fact of Canada. Don’t like it?

Maybe Mr. Levant’s solution might be to offer up the north to Denmark or Russia?

Continuing to feed his audience their dose of red meat, “Oh, one more thing. See, Attawapiskat already had an ice resurfacer. But it was a 1997 model. And the trustees of Attawapiskat’s money, those guardians of the interests of ordinary Indians, those three well-paid chiefs and the 18 well-paid band councillors, plus all the civil servants and permanent government staff up there, thought the latest model was what Attawapiskat needed to buy.

“Oh, and they paid cash — half up front and half on delivery. Poor folks — most normal Canadians — might have to finance a big new vehicle. Not the high rollers at Attawapiskat. They had the money in a bank account”.

Exactly Ezra. If you had bothered to make some phone calls, do some research or even to have read the entire document you would have discovered that the community came together and held bingos, fundraising events and dollar by dollar raised the money to get their new ice resurfacer.

Or are you saying that in your view, and that of Sun Media that communities should never try doing for themselves?

That is what happened here, it was the people. They raised that money and it was for the kids. See how it works in the minds of some, they don’t think that the government should do everything, but when the people step up to do it themselves, they should be smacked down too.

Rock? Hard place? Pick one? Hardly a solution, but makes for a great rant.

What is amazing here, in my opinion is that in bashing the people of Attawapiskat, there are many who might simply follow along without fact checking. Just like the Sun’s employee did here.

Finally Levant shares, “I didn’t get a copy of this Olympia invoice in a manila envelope slipped under my door. I don’t have a secret source leaking me this information. It’s posted right on the Attawpiskat band’s website.

“The purchase of the ice resurfacer is a scandal. But the Media Party’s willful blindness to the purchase — the $90 million of other waste — is an even bigger scandal”.

The real issues in Attawapiskat are that instead of stepping up to help build capacity in the community, the Conservatives are playing politics, and their cheerleaders are all too willing to go along for the ride and walk in lock-step.

The truth is that while Attawapiskat is not perfect, name me a community that is, what is really needed is for people to work together toward making improvements.

For me, personally, I had hope that the Conservatives could do better than the Liberals did. Witnessing the results, all Canadians should be embarrassed. It is not racist, it is not being the ‘media party’, and it is not being blind to the results.

It is being a Canadian. Those who wrap themselves in their political party flag and forget we are all Canadians are as big a symbol of the real problem as anything Canada faces.

That is just my opinion.

James Murray

Article was updated on January 11 2013 – only to update the images of Attawapiskat.

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