Attawapiskat First Nation made it very clear to the government – Grand Chief Louttit

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Attawapiskat housing
Modular homes in Attawapiskat - Photo by Chris Kat

Attawapiskat housing
Modular homes in Attawapiskat – Photo by Chris Kat

OTTAWA – Grand Chief Stan Louttit of Mushkegowuk Council states, “At the height of the Attawapiskat housing crisis over a year ago, the Attawapiskat First Nation made it very clear to the government that they would welcome a forensic audit to be carried out. The government chose not to conduct such an audit only to settle for a limited audit by the firm of Deloitte. If the federal government is so hell bent on insisting that there has been misappropriation of funds then they should do the right thing and conduct a forensic audit.”

The Grand Chief. is outraged by portrayals of Chief Theresa Spence and the Attawapiskat First Nation as irresponsible and lacking the ability to manage the affairs of the community.

In the days leading up to the meeting with the Prime Minister on Friday, January 11, the Grand Chief sees that some public commentators seem to want to discredit Chief Spence and the community. Grand Chief Louttit says “The public focus should be on the meeting of January 11 and the desired outcomes rather than vilifying Chief Spence and the community of Attawapiskat”.

“The January 11 meeting is an important and critical opportunity for dialogue and to work towards some key deliverables into the future” stated the Grand Chief. “That should be the focus. All of this concentration on Attawapiskat’s fiscal issues is not doing anyone any good, only adding sensationalism to the issue.” The Grand Chief went on to state that the Deloitte audit did not observe evidence of misappropriation of funds as suggested by some media types and general public perception, only evidence of lack of supporting documentation.

The First Nation received the Deloitte report in September 2012 and has been working with its advisors and staff in actively enforcing new procedures for the issues identified in the report. The First Nation has brought in new expertise and a new co-manager to support their efforts at increasing financial transparency.

The Grand Chief continued, “As well, the audit by Deloitte was not conducted at the best of times. The management of the First Nation was engaged in transporting and installing 22 mobile homes to begin addressing the housing Crises. At the same time they were engaged in a legal battle with the government to remove the imposition of Third Party Management. A battle that the community won when the Court ruled that the Harper government should never have imposed such draconian measures in the first place”.

[sws_pullquote_right] After about 30 minutes in -20 degree weather, they abandoned their search and never returned to the warehouse. The auditors gave up their search of records and now are vilifying the Chief and First Nation for not having back up documentation [/sws_pullquote_right]

During this tenuous time for the First Nation, every payroll was met and essential services were maintained by a small core management group of community members under great strain. When the Deloitte group were in town, the amount of time they made available was very limited. For example, the Deloitte officials were taken to the warehouse where old files were retained to locate records. After about 30 minutes in -20 degree weather, they abandoned their search and never returned to the warehouse. The auditors gave up their search of records and now are vilifying the Chief and First Nation for not having back up documentation.

This example illustrates the trying circumstances of this audit given the legal and political attacks on a community with a severe lack of capacity. If there had been a concerted effort and ample time given for the report, the Grand Chief is certain that a different set of conclusions could have been reached.

The First Nation Chief, Council and staff are adamant that they will overcome this period of turmoil. Chief Spence is committed to the cause of improving First Nation accountability, fiscal management and has already taken steps to do so.

The Grand Chief believes that the concentration should now be on Federal and First Nation relationship building. The January 11 meeting can be a catalyst for improving that relationship that was first cemented in the making of Treaty #9 over 100 years ago.

Chief Spence is currently on day 29 of her hunger strike. Chief Spence has gone on record as stating that results have to come out of the January 11 meeting and only then, will she consider giving up the hunger strike.

Grand Chief Louttit is calling on the Prime Minister to take advantage of this chance to foster change in Crown and First Nation relations. “This is an opportunity for both the First Nations and the Prime Minister to work together to move forward” stated the Grand Chief. “We cannot let this opportunity slide by. Too much is at stake. If nothing concrete comes out of this meeting, the Idle No More movement will ramp up, more hunger strikes will take place and a strained relationship will worsen. We cannot let this happen” concluded Grand Chief Louttit.