Duncan Declares Government Help As Native Leaders Look for Lost Funds

Lisa Linklater plays with her son Keilyn and Drisdyn in a temporary shelter in Attawapiskat, Ont. Linklater has lived in the one room tent for approximately two years. (AP Photo/Adrian Wyld, The Canadian Press)

If a native community is plagued by poverty, illness and cold and nobody listens, do they make a sound? Many in the Northern Ontario community of Attawapiskat are likely wondering that same thing. After years of living in third-world conditions, the James Bay reserve finally appears to have caught the ears of the Conservative government.

Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Duncan, who you’d think by virtue of his job title may have had his finger on the pulse of all of this, announced during question period Wednesday that a third party would be managing the First Nations community “to ensure community needs are addressed.”

Those “community needs” include food, shelter, clothing, medical attention and financial assistance.

“Part of the manager’s role will be to administer my department’s funding,” Duncan said. “I’ve also requested a comprehensive audit to identify how money has been spent and what oversight measures have been taken.”

That money includes the more than $90 million that Prime Minister Stephen Harper claims his government has provided the community since taking power five years ago. Native leaders responsible for allocation of the funds said they couldn’t seem to figure out where the money was spent, though it’s plain to see what the money wasn’t spent on.

Money, however, isn’t the only thing missing in Attawapiskat. Opposition MPs criticized Prime Minister Harper Wednesday for not visiting the struggling community.

“Why is it that when it’s a First Nations community in distress this government’s response is contempt?” Charles Angus, the NDP MP for the riding that includes the reserve, said.

“It’s the government that has to take responsibility for what’s happened and not simply continue to blame the victim,” interim Liberal Party Leader Bob Rae added. “[The Conservative Party is] where the problem lies.”

After declaring an emergency a month ago, help has been slow to arrive in Attawapiskat. After reports of much of the community living in un-insulated sheds with no plumbing and little food or money, the Red Cross provided the community with sleeping bags, heaters and other supplies. Unless more help arrives soon, though, fears remain that the approaching winter weather will wreak havoc on the already battered community, possibly costing lives in the process.