Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Canada - First Nations are Victims of the Government! (Part 2)

‘An aboriginal uprising is inevitable’ if Harper doesn’t listen, chief threatens
By Peter O’Neil
Postmedia News Jan 23, 2012
OTTAWA — Canada could face an Arab Spring-style “uprising” if Prime Minister Stephen Harper doesn’t give a clear indication in his meeting with aboriginal leaders here Tuesday that he’s prepared to take their concerns seriously, a B.C. native leader warned Monday.
“We must do better. The honour of the Crown and the very integrity of Canada as a nation is at stake,” said Stewart Phillip, grand chief of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, in a news release issued by the Assembly of First Nations’ B.C. wing.
“Otherwise, an aboriginal uprising is inevitable.”
Prime Minister Stephen Harper talks with Assembly of First Nations Chief Shawn Atleo.
An estimated 400 chiefs from across Canada, including 47 from British Columbia and 22 from Alberta, have gathered here for their first face-to-face meeting with Harper since the Conservatives formed government in 2006.
Harper was to meet with a select group of chiefs late Monday afternoon, then meet again until lunchtime Tuesday before departing for Davos, Switzerland, to take part in the World Economic Forum gathering of global political and business elites.
Some participants are optimistic in advance of their meeting with Harper, who won accolades for his residential schools apology and endorsement of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
But others remain skeptical.
George Stanley, the AFN’s regional chief in Alberta, said he suspects Harper is simply trying to get a “photo op” to prove he consulted with aboriginal Canadians.
“That is a very tainted picture in my eyes,” he said.
The meeting comes in the wake of national and even international interest in the plight of Canada’s aboriginal population following reports of Third World-style poverty at the northern Ontario community of Attawapiskat.
“The gathering provides the prime minister with an opportunity to demonstrate that he is a true Canadian” by making substantial commitments on education, health, governance and land claims, said Jody Wilson-Raybould, the AFN’s regional chief in B.C.
“The world is watching.”
Phillip cited the handful of violent confrontations involving aboriginal groups starting with the 1990 Oka crisis in Quebec, which included the shooting death of a Quebec police officer and the non-lethal showdown between Canadian soldiers and armed Mohawks.
Phillip said aboriginals from across Canada engaged during Oka in various demonstrations of solidarity across Canada, including a roadblock near Penticton, B.C., in which participants had a single “two-handed” cellphone.
“You needed two hands to hold it” due to its weight and size, Phillip explained.
He predicted a largely peaceful uprising along the lines of the U.S. Civil Rights movement of the 1960s, but through using social media.
“In today’s world that response will be more instantaneous.”
Wilson-Raybould said chiefs have a range of views — ranging from angry to optimistic — and she said she’s holding out hope the Harper-First Nations summit will lead to substantial progress.
She said Harper could take an important step by agreeing to meet at least once a year with chiefs to assess progress.
The B.C. chiefs are also asking the government to accelerate the stalled comprehensive treaty process, work with the B.C. government to improve resource revenue-sharing, agree that aboriginal “consent” is needed on “major industrial developments” — an apparent reference to the $5.5-billion Northern Gateway pipeline from the Alberta oilsands to the B.C. coast — and “revisit” the $5.1-billion Kelowna Accord for First Nations that was killed when Harper took office in 2006.
The federal government tried to set the stage for the discussions Monday by announcing 18 agreements with First Nations across Canada, including eight in B.C. and two in Alberta, that have signed agreements under the First Nations Land Management Act.
That legislation, enacted in 1999, allows reserves to opt out of land-related sections of the Indian Act to have greater control over their land and natural resources.
The announcements underscore the Harper government’s messaging that the best route out of aboriginal poverty is economic and resource development instead of social program spending.
But Stanley, the AFN’s Alberta chief, said First Nations on the Prairies have little interest moving away from the Indian Act.
“We’re not ready to go in that direction,” he said.
“The chiefs are saying, ‘What are we going to replace it with? We’ve already lost everything.’
“This is the reason we’re here, to protect” those rights, he said.
Alberta’s Alexis Nakota Sioux Nation and Tsuu T’ina First Nation both struck deals under the land management legislation, according to Monday’s announcement.
In B.C., the Haisla, Shuswap, St. Mary’s, Stz’uminus, Williams Lake, Aitchelitz, Skowkale and Yakweakwioose First Nations struck deals — the latter three under the umbrella of a single regime run by the Sto:lo Tribal Council.
Sto:lo Grand Chief Joe Hall said in a statement that te agreement means 10 of 11 Sto:lo First Nations are signatories, filling “geographical gaps” in Sto:lo territory and providing greater land code “group harmony.”
“This in turn will prove to be equally important with the neighbouring non-aboriginal local governments,” Hall said.

National chief supports civil disobedience over Attawapiskat
CBC News
Posted: Dec 10, 2011
While tensions continue to grow between the federal government and the First Nations community of Attawapiskat, National Chief for the Assembly of First Nations Shawn Atleo says civil disobedience is one form of action that could be used to draw attention to the current crisis.
In an interview with CBC Radio's The House, National Chief Shawn Atleo tells host Evan Solomon that "remote-control decisions, unilaterally imposed decisions," like imposing a third-party manager on the community of Attawapiskat, are not the answer.
A number of chiefs have told Atleo "we need to use every tool that is available to us."
Atleo acknowledges that civil disobedience "certainly has been one of the tools" he has used in the past, specifically when trying to bring attention to the plight of his own community on the west coast of British Columbia.
"Attawapiskat is not the only one" under a third-party manager, said Atleo.
"Again this is about decisions made by remote control, by individuals who have no deep-vested interest in these communities — they're operating from cities elsewhere or Ottawa, for that matter."
Part of the challenge in this crisis is getting past the blame game, and according to Atleo there's only one of two ways to do that: "it's hard or harder."
"Are we going to work separately and have it harder, or are we going to get on with the hard work of working to reconcile our respective jurisdictions," said Atleo.
Attawapiskat chief cool to offer to relocate residents
By Amy Chung and Derek Abma, Postmedia News
December 9, 2011
OTTAWA - The chief of a troubled northern Ontario reserve battling a housing crisis and abhorrent living conditions said her community may turn down an evacuation offer from the Harper government, according to media reports.
On Friday, Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence wrote a letter responding to Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Duncan's proposal to temporarily relocate reserve residents in substandard housing who want to leave.
Spence said she will consult with her community but thinks they will stay and wait it out.
Duncan also said 15 modular homes have been purchased by the federal government for the community and will be delivered once winter roads are functional, probably in January. Spence said the reserve needs at least 22.
As well, Duncan said the government had provided funding to renovate five homes on the reserve and is working with other agencies to provide such necessities as toilets, wood stoves and building materials.
"Our government has prioritized the urgent health and safety needs of the residents of Attawapiskat,'' Duncan said at a news conference in the House of Commons foyer. "We've been working around the clock with the community and Emergency Management Ontario to ensure the residents and especially the children of Attawapiskat have access to safe, warm shelter for the coming months.''
Duncan said some of the immediate solutions, until the homes can be delivered or other repairs made, include modifications to make the local sports complex or healing lodge livable on a temporary basis for some residents.
Duncan did not say specifically how much such measures would cost. Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird said in the Commons that repairs on the five homes would cost $500,000.
As well, Spence reiterated her objection to the federally appointed third-party manager to oversee the band's finances. That manager - Jacques Marion - was ordered off the reserve when he flew in last week.
Marion will be paid out of federal funding already earmarked for band administration, an official in Duncan's office said, adding the costs will not come from the emergency funding delivered to Attawapiskat. His fee is $1,300 per day.
Charlie Angus, the New Democrat MP for the Timmins-James Bay riding that includes Attawapiskat, called this move a ``punishment'' for reserve residents.
"This guy's been sent there to cut cheques and to cut off the funding,'' Angus said. "That's what happens. They cut off funding on anything that they consider unnecessary, which in a small band, is actually a lot of necessary funding.''
Liberal leader Bob Rae brought up an auditor general's report from 2003 that highlighted problems with assigning third-party managers to deal with issues on native reserves.
That report, from former auditor general Sheila Fraser said: "Third-party management is an extreme intervention, intended to be temporary. However, unless it is more transparent and focuses more on capacity development, the intervention may not resolve the underlying problems.''
That report also found, from consultations with First Nations leaders, that these communities would prefer more transparency from third-party managers and to have more say in who gets these jobs.
Rae's summary of that report was that "you don't get anywhere by simply imposing third-party solutions that have no buy-in from the band itself.''
"The problem is capacity,'' Rae added. "You improve capacity. You improve government. You improve housing. That's the thing you do and that's where this government has just not faced up to the issue.''
Duncan also said the government would be conducting an audit of the reserve's finances over the last five years. Angus said this is a measure the reserve's governing authorities have said they welcome.
The federal government says it has allocated $90 million to the reserve on James Bay since 2006.
In Attawapiskat, deep-rooted problems won't disappear in an instant
Genesee Keevil
From Saturday's Globe and Mail
Dec. 09, 2011
“They hear about the diamonds,” said Maryanne Wheesk, a middle-aged grandmother in the remote James Bay community of Attawapiskat, “and they think we're rich.”
I sat down with Ms. Wheesk two years ago, long before Attawapiskat had declared a state of emergency, and long before a housing crisis transformed the mispronounced dot on a map to a mainstay of the national conversation.
The plight of the inhabitants here is a familiar one among isolated aboriginal communities. They lack access to clean drinking water. They lack adequate shelter. And the persistent questions about economic viability are lost in a haze of mutual recrimination with Ottawa: Complaints about mistreatment by the federal government are met with accusations of fiscal mismanagement and poor governance.
But there is one thing unique to Attawapiskat, something that had – for a time, at least – given residents reason to believe their story would be a different one.
Just upriver from the three-bedroom home that Ms. Wheesk shares with 17 of her family members, and 500 kilometres from the nearest road, lies a deposit of low-grade kimberlite. Although there are few diamonds per ton of ore, the ones that are there are of an incredibly high quality – so high, in fact, that when experts saw the first sampling, they assumed the raw product had already been sorted. It hadn't. An average diamond sells for $80 a carat; Attawapiskat's go for more than $400.
It's why De Beers decided to develop the property and create Ontario's first diamond mine, dubbed Victor. When it began operations in 2008, the South African mining giant estimated it would contribute $6.7-billion to the Ontario economy in its 12-year lifespan. Residents, meanwhile, predicted the nearby mine would bring jobs, training, and the kind of economic permanence that had always eluded them.
But as the past few months have shown, things haven't improved. Some argue the decline has just continued.
“It's been like this for so many years – and it keeps getting worse,” Chief Theresa Spence said on the eve of her visit to Ottawa this week. “We don't have enough finances, and we never did.”
Band co-manager Clayton Kennedy managed Attawapiskat's finances from 2001 through 2004, and was rehired in July, 2010.
In the five years he was not with the band, he said, things became “a financial nightmare.” He believes the first nation was in over its head.
“It wasn't so much people pocketing money, or flying to Bermuda,” he said. “It was more, too many trips to Timmins and too many workshops.” The band also hired too many staff, even at the risk of running a deficit, he said. This resulted in young, inexperienced workers “occupying positions, even when they were not capable of doing the job.” Attawapiskat has an unemployment rate of more than 60 per cent, and “there was a mentality to hire as many people as possible in order to get money on the table, so people could buy food and get off welfare.”
In January, Mr. Kennedy implemented a new remedial management plan, drastically changing the way business was conducted. Mr. Kennedy has residents paying for rent, water, sewer, garbage and electrical fees, something that was not well managed previously.
But the problems here are deep-rooted, and not easily overcome – particularly when it comes to infrastructure. Many young people, for instance, don't know what it's like to have a normal elementary school. For them, it's six grey portables beside an abandoned lot. Over two decades, more than 150,000 litres of diesel leaked into the substructure of the J.R. Nakogee elementary school without anyone noticing. Rosie Koostachin remembered the smell, a heady mix of burnt tar and gasoline. Now 38, she's anemic, gets migraines, has high blood pressure and consistently irregular pap tests.
When the school was demolished in 2009, Ms. Koostachin's house was covered in a fine layer of grey dust. “We were all sleepy, got headaches, started coughing and had watery eyes.”
De Beers arrived in Attawapiskat around the same time the village learned its school was contaminated. Promising to bring its Books in Homes campaign to the James Bay communities, and employing the motto “Education is Forever,” the company was an ally in the push for a new facility. The Department of Indian and Northern Affairs gave Attawapiskat the portables, promising a real school within the next two years. And De Beers again petitioned the minister for action in 2009, pledging support in the form of project management and work crews. But the village is still waiting.
Leaders in Attawapiskat firmly believe that the problems are fixable with more help from Ottawa. The federal government has countered that its disbursement – $90-million since 2006 – is fair, and has requested a forensic audit of the community's books.
Clara Tomagatik didn't mention the clear, hard gems discovered under her family's traditional hunting grounds. Instead, she talked about building wigwams out of pliable young alders for her family to smoke moose meat and dry beaver, martin and muskrat pelts. The wigwams were at a winter camp where Victor mine sits today. Every fall, she would head upriver with her brothers, sisters and her 86-year-old mother, Emelda, until De Beers put up “No Trespassing” signs. Now, the Tomagatik family is prohibited from hunting, trapping, or camping on their traditional lands. Community members can't visit the mine site without a criminal-record check and an escort.
Ms. Tomagatik struggled with English, continually breaking into Cree then catching herself and searching for words. She said De Beers officials met with her family three times, long before the company cut a deal with Attawapiskat. She claimed that the company offered her and her four siblings $10,000 a year while the mine was in operation and that she has the paperwork to prove it. For the first few years, the money materialized. Ms. Tomagatik used it to support her daughter, living down south in Timmins. But several years ago, the payments stopped.
Tom Ormsby, the company's director of corporate affairs, explained that the rules changed when De Beers signed a deal with Attawapiskat to develop the land. Instead of making payments to individual band members, the money goes to chief and council.
“We don't compensate individuals,” said Mr. Ormsby, who began working for De Beers after the meetings with the Tomagatiks took place. “We have no way of knowing people's traditional hunting grounds and things like that. And we don't designate what the money's for, whether it's for the Tomagatiks or anybody. That's for the chief and council to decide.”
Before cutting a deal with Attawapiskat, he said, De Beers made sure it supplied the community with enough money to hire its own advisers. The impact-benefit agreement – which earned Mining Magazine's “Mine of the Year Award” in 2009 – took more than three years to negotiate and covers everything from De Beers' right to override Attawapiskat land claims to what's served at Victor's cafeteria.
“We were not going to sit at the table with our negotiators and the community not have the opportunity to sit at the table with people of equal experience and background,” Mr. Ormsby said. “We have 120 years of diamond-mining experience, and it's unfair to think any community, at the beginning, would have a full and broad grasp of everything we do.”
The mining company gives Attawapiskat about $2-million a year for use of its traditional land. De Beers also says it hires locally and provides various training programs.
Mr. Ormsby noted the mine has about 500 permanent full-time employees, roughly 100 of whom are from Attawapiskat. He also said close to half the workers self-identify as aboriginal.
“Since the start of construction, community-owned or jointly owned businesses have been awarded over $325-million, including $51-million this year alone,” he said in an e-mail last week. “The community owns or jointly owns all the permanent contracts in the Victor mine.”
But there are limits to what these jobs and programs can do in a remote area with chronic unemployment and no other industry.
After graduating from Vezina Secondary School in 2009, Christine Kataquapit's daughter planned on continuing her education by taking courses offered by the mine. Her mom was De Beers's newly appointed first-nation liaison. But there were no courses available, except basic first aid. Ms. Kataquapit's daughter also applied to work at Victor, but after four months without a response, she went south. “She's 19, she can't find a job here,” Ms. Kataquapit said.
De Beers's Attawapiskat office is in an ATCO trailer between the church and the bootlegger's, where a mickey of vodka sells for $130. (The bootlegger's house is known locally as “the palace,” and with its new siding and thermal windows, it's easily one of the nicest spots in town.)
Out of the ATCO trailer, De Beers has been laying the groundwork for expansion. The Victor kimberlite is one of at least 16 diamond-bearing pipes in the Attawapiskat area. Over the past year, the company has been in contact with the Tomagatiks again. This time, De Beers is negotiating with Clara's younger brother, John Tomagatik. “They want to explore in another spot on our land,” Mr. Tomagtik said. “But we don't want to let them explore until we sign a new [impact-benefit agreement].”
The 198-page agreement is a dense read – so dense, in fact, that it has overwhelmed the community's small, rundown band office. There are a dizzying array of commitments: from environmental management committees and joint management committees to employee advisory committees, wildlife management plans, mining monitors and human-resources inventories.
Theresa Hall, who was IBA co-ordinator and later became chief for a term, confessed she hadn't even heard of some of the committees and positions laid out in the document. She wasn't aware, for instance, that her first nation could request government valuation reports showing the mine's production values, access laid out in section 10.11.1. She hadn't seen De Beers's annual environmental reports, and she admitted the IBA co-ordinator position had been empty for years. The agreement even gave the community an opportunity to find a native name for Victor, but chief and council missed the deadline. Keeping up with the IBA is too much, Ms. Hall said. “We can sign the best agreement in the world, but if we don't have the people with the educational requirements, then it's false promises.”
Village activist Greg Shisheesh has been lobbying for a revised IBA for several years. He has collected more than 600 signatures asking De Beers to reopen its agreement with Attawapiskat. His petition has not been answered. “It's not that we don't want De Beers on our land,” he said. “We just want to make sure they're doing their part.” After a pause, he added: “It breaks down at our level. … We don't understand who we're dealing with – we're dealing with a giant that's dealt with aboriginal people all over the world. And our staff is not educated, so we're not able to catch up.”
Mr. Shisheesh, however, acknowledged there have been governance issues in Attawapiskat. And he welcomes the fact that Ottawa recently sent in a third-party manager to oversee the community's operations – a deeply divisive move that has angered many.
“There's no doubt we're in a mess financially,” he said. “We lack training and we lack education. But regardless, we need help cleaning up the financial situation.”
Attawapiskat requires answers not more handouts
By Peter Worthington, QMI Agency
Wednesday, December 07, 2011
TORONTO - For most of us, it’s hard to justify Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence’s chutzpah in banning a government-appointed manager from entering the James Bay community to assess what went wrong.
It’s even harder to equate over $90 million of taxpayers’ money spent on the community of 1,800 since 1996, with the housing crisis and the indignity of emergency relief supplies being flown it to curb the spreading misery.
Chief Spence seems adamant that Jacques Marion not set foot on the reserve. As the designated “third-party manager” of Attawapiskat’s spending, he’ll have to do it from outside the reserve, with no help from inside.
Clearly, that’s an arrangement that can’t work.
Some of the above impressions need clarifying: The record of third-party managers is not encouraging, and often they’re accused of halting everything and being dictatorial. Hence Chief Spence’s attitude.
And the $90 million goes to the whole Northern region, with only $16 million earmarked for buildings in Attawapiskat – bad, but not as outrageous as it first seems.
The immediate thought is that Chief Spence and the band council might be looting the till, as has happened in other reserves. Not so. It seems Chief Spence’s salary is a modest $70,000, with a decent audit conducted on the money that comes in.
So the wretched housing conditions in Attawapiskat seem not to be linked with the sort of corruption that is endemic throughout the system. Just shoddy management.
So far, Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Duncan has been restrained and reasonable. He’d like to avoid trouble. As usual.
Chief Spence accuses the Mr. Marion of being “a modern-day Indian agent,” and says the Harper government is trying to blame the victim for the housing crisis.
What the PM, Minister Duncan, Mr. Marion, and the Canadian public want to know, is how people can be living in shacks and tents when $90 million was spent on the region.
Chief Spence says it was $94 million, of which 6.5% was designated for housing, and the rest “to support the greater economy of Northern Ontario . . . goods, materials, services, construction, legal advice and auditing.” Hmm. Still seems a lot.
What seems obvious is that Chief Spence and the band council are incapable of running their community the way it should be run – even though she acknowledges that on a per capita basis, everyone in Attawapiskat gets $10,000 a year from the government.
If any non-aboriginal community were run the way Attawapiskat was run, there’d be a revolt among residents -- and the feds would long ago have cut off funding.
The “transparency and accountability” in Aboriginal funding, promised by federal legislation, is not apparent in Attawaspiskat. Or, arguably, in other First Nation communities -- 20% of which require drinking water to be boiled.
Chief Spence wants no outside interference – just more money and no questions asked, or controls demanded.
Her answer to wretched housing is more government involvement – like an additional $2.5 million for housing. Does it not occur to her that if housing is so bad – and apparently it is – she and the band council have a responsibility to mobilize the community and help themselves?
Chief Spence sees a nearby diamond mine as contributing to problems. She told the CBC: “While they reap the riches, my people shiver in cold shacks and are becoming increasingly ill, while precious diamonds from my land grace the fingers of Hollywood celebrities and the mace of the Ontario Legislature.” More handouts wanted.
No suggestion of personal responsibility or initiative, or fending for oneself.
Attawapiskat leaders want UN to intervene
Heather Scoffield, The Canadian Press
Dec 6, 2011
A spokeswoman for Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Duncan, right, says the government is committed to working with Attawapiskat chief Theresa Spence and band council.
OTTAWA—Leaders in Attawapiskat have asked the United Nations to intervene in their crisis, saying the move would force Prime Minister Stephen Harper to explain why he is not living up to his international obligations to respect aboriginal people.
“We have a right to go abroad to international people to say, ‘Look, this is what’s happening in Canada,’ ” Grand Chief Stan Louttit said after chiefs from across the country passed a resolution to ask the UN for a special rapporteur.
The housing crisis in Attawapiskat — where families live in uninsulated shacks as winter sets in — has turned into a political crisis that pits First Nations chiefs against the federal government.
Some of the chiefs took to the streets of Ottawa on Tuesday during a break in their annual meetings. They’re furious the federal government responded to Attawapiskat’s declaration of emergency by ordering yet another audit, and removing the band’s power over its finances.
“There seems to be an impasse here,” Louttit said.
But the band’s chief, Theresa Spence, says she is trying to find a way out of the escalating conflict.
Her band members ordered a government-appointed third-party manager to leave the reserve Monday, mainly because he had given no notice and did not have a plan to present, Spence said.
But she said she is working on her own plan to present to the government, and wants to discuss with her band council how they could work with the third-party manager in future.
“We’re hoping things will work out,” she said.
The decision to impose third-party management has nothing to do with resolving the short-term housing crisis on her reserve, she said, and will only make matters worse. She says she is bracing for funding cuts and delays, as the government appointee cracks down and takes control.
“It’s not right, that picture,” said Louttit. He acknowledged the band had audit problems in the past, but has made improvements.
Neither he nor Spence are opposed to the government asking for another audit.
But the measures by the federal government will do nothing to alleviate unhealthy living conditions that currently plague the community, they said.
In a unanimous resolution, First Nations chiefs asked the UN to appoint a special rapporteur to determine whether Ottawa is meeting its obligations under Canadian law and international treaties.
“We must go together and tell the government: this is our land, this is our life,” Attawapiskat chief Theresa Spence told dozens of fellow leaders at the Assembly of First Nations’ annual meeting.
“We need to say ‘enough is enough.’ Respect our treaty and follow our treaty, as we did.”
The resolution was a last-minute addition to the agenda at the meeting, where anger and disbelief run thick over the government’s handling of the housing crisis in Attawapiskat.
It also demands that the federal and provincial governments respond quickly to communities lacking basic needs.
And it instructs the Aboriginal Affairs minister to stop imposing measures and instead work with chiefs and their councils.
A spokeswoman for Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Duncan says the government is committed to working with the chief and council to find ways to give the people warm and dry places to sleep.
But chief after chief accused the minister of being disingenuous, saying his decision to respond to Attawapiskat’s cry for help by removing the band’s power over its finances shows a lack of respect and understanding.
“That’s not going to work,” said Grand Chief Stan Beardy of the Nishnawbe Aski Nation.
He said placing a third-party financial manager in charge of Attawapiskat is a throwback to the colonial era. It comes as First Nations leaders and Harper have agreed to talk about defining a new relationship that would eventually lead to self-government.
“This is the Indian agent being imposed on us,” Beardy said in an interview.
Duncan says Ottawa still holds decision-making power over the band’s money even though the third-party manager was kicked out.
“His message is, ‘if you make noise, we’re going to send in a third-party manager to take control’,” Spence said. “They impose the Indian Act and take control of our lives.”
Key First Nations chiefs are planning a summit with Harper at the end of January, in part to discuss how to move beyond that act, which both sides consider antiquated.
Although some chiefs say Harper has shown no goodwill in recent days, National Chief Shawn Atleo said the public attention and the outpouring of donations focused on the problems in Attawapiskat give First Nations a big boost.
“It’s our time,” he told the chiefs. “By this, we mean that the pain and the suffering ends right here, right now, in this generation.
“Together we can close the chapter of a very dark period of our history and turn the page to write a new chapter filled with hope and promise for our children and their children to come.”
Aides passed an open blanket around to collect funds for Attawapiskat, and raised almost $6,000 in an hour.
Spence said she was grateful for the donations and for the help of the Red Cross, but it’s a pittance compared with what her community needs for housing, schooling and health care.
“Winter is here,” she said. “And we’ve been living like this for more than three years. We have to stop it.”
In Attawapiskat, five families are living in uninsulated wood-frame tents with no plumbing and dozens of families are crammed together in temporary shelters. Tuesday daytime temperatures were reported at -14C, with a forecast of -12C overnight.
The reserve is only one of dozens experiencing severe housing shortages — prompting many chiefs to call for better funding arrangements and a full discussion with Ottawa on how to fix the persistent problem.

Lives at risk on Ontarios Attawapiskat reserve chief says
Governments blamed for ignoring 'crisis'
By Linda Nguyen
Postmedia News
November 19, 2011
A state of emergency declared last month over "Third-World" living conditions in a remote northern Ontario reserve has fallen on deaf ears, the chief of Attawapiskat said Friday.
Chief Theresa Spence says lives are being put at risk as the provincial and federal governments continue to ignore the cries of help from the 2,000 residents, many of whom are children and elders.
"It's really a crisis we're facing in our community," she said, flanked by NDP MP Charlie Angus and Ontario NDP legislative member Gilles Bisson at a news conference in Toronto. "It's time for the government to accept and understand what is going on, and deal with it. Because right now, nobody is stepping in."
For at least the past two years, many residents - including in some cases, multiple generations of one family - in the community have been living in makeshift tents and shacks without heat, electricity and indoor plumbing.
At least 90 people have resorted to living in two construction workers' portables equipped with only two washrooms and four showers to use among them.
Others are using buckets as washroom facilities and sleep in fear of fire because of wood-burning stoves in their homes, the chief said.
The families have been living in these conditions because they had to move out of deteriorating 40-year-old homes and also to accommodate a rapidly growing population.
The province has acknowledged the state of emergency declared on Oct. 28, but has not put any plans in place to renovate or build more housing, or as a last resort, to temporarily evacuate residents to safer accommodations.
A spokeswoman with the provincial Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services, which oversees Emergency Management Ontario, says it's still in discussion with federal officials to co-ordinate a response. No timeline could be given on when action would be taken.
Emergency Management Ontario is responsible for managing rescue efforts for situations ranging from floods to forest fires. It rarely is involved in housing issues, like the one in Attawapiskat.
According to Spence, the longer the government sits and passes the buck, the worse the situation will get as residents become more vulnerable to infectious diseases due to the substandard living conditions.
"This is not a safe environment right now and winter is coming," she said.
Angus, MP for Timmins-James Bay, says even a recent infusion of $500,000 from the federal government to address some of these problems is not enough when one house for one family can cost up to $200,000.
Hundreds homeless in Attawapiskat
MP says, ‘people will die if nothing is done’
By Ryan Lux, The Daily Press
09 November 2011
The region's top two politicians paid a visit to Attawapiskat this week in response to the community's declaration that its housing situation is in a state of emergency.
What they found was a community that has reached its breaking point.
They described a bulging population living in mold-infested, under-serviced and overcrowded housing that could be likened to the Third World if it weren't for the fact the sheds and tents people live in have to keep out frigid -40 C temperatures.
MP Charlie Angus (NDP — Timmins-James Bay)
"There are literally hundreds of homeless people," said MP Charlie Angus (NDP — Timmins-James Bay). "We are very concerned that people will die if nothing is done."
Angus said he saw people living in uninsulated tents, wood sheds and homes infested with black mould. Many of the homes he and his provincial counterpart, MPP Gilles Bisson (NDP — Timmins-James Bay), visited lacked plumbing forcing people to use buckets. Where there was plumbing, the water was so corrosive it was rotting the pipes.
"We saw one intersection where there were 15 people having to dump their toilet waste into the ditches so I'm certainly concerned about the health risks to children from infectious diseases."
Overcrowding puts further pressure on the already inadequate infrastructure.
Bisson said he found upwards of 20 people living in three- and four-bedroom homes, where each bedroom housed entire large families.
More than 90 people live in a series of work trailers donated to the community by De Beers two years ago in response to a sewage overflow that rendered many of the community's houses unliveable.
While the trailers were intended as a short term stop-gap measure, until the homes could be remediated or replaced, they have become permanent homeless shelters.
The 90 people who live in the trailers share four stoves and six washrooms.
Angus recalled one mother who said her young son refers to a piece of couch surrounded by other people's mattresses as his room.
Bisson said some homes are heated exclusively by halved 45-gallon drums used as wood stoves.
It's not as though Bisson and Angus have never been to Attawapiskat in their respective 21 and seven years in power. However, this time Bisson said he was offered a far more intimate perspective of the crisis.
"When I saw those shelters I thought they were sweat lodges and sheds. I never asked the question," said Bisson.
"I never realized people were living in them."
He credited his ignorance of the situation on the ground to the community's stoic nature.
"When I asked them if they were mad, they said it's not their way," Bisson said.
Angus said part of the problem is that inadequate housing has been normalized by decades of government neglect and Attawapiskat's culture of patience and making the best of limited resources.
Given their seemingly infinite patience for conditions to improve, Angus said the very fact a state of emergency has been declared speaks volumes about how bad things have become.
"First Nations people are very patient people so it takes a lot for them to invite us there to see that."
While the crisis has been brewing for a long time, pairing a rapidly growing population with insufficient construction and infrastructure development, Angus said the crisis really came to a head under Chuck Strahl who headed the Ministry of Indian and Northern Affairs between 2006 and 2007.
"Minister Strahl had a very combative attitude towards and basically ignored the problem," said Angus. "We've at least had 100 people homeless there for some time."
He also laid some blame on the ministry's bureaucracy, which he described as intransigent to Attawapiskat's misery.
"They've got tough hearts that are immune to it. They've seen a lot of misery," Angus said.
The Ministry has responded to Attawapiskat's plea for help by promising to retrofit 15 homes that were originally abandoned by people who considered tents and sheds as the safer option.
"Are we just moving them from the fire to the frying pan?" said Bisson.
While the retrofitted houses may be the best option to ensure some residents won't spend a harsh winter living in tents and sheds, Angus said both the federal and provincial governments need to craft a long-term housing strategy accompanied by predictable and stable funding to execute it.
The governments' current response still won't be able to bring the 15 homes up to adequate standards people in Southern Ontario would find acceptable.
"If these conditions were faced by tenants anywhere in Southern Ontario there would be charges laid against the landlord, who in this case is the federal government ," said Angus.
"I'm glad to see the ministry at the table but there's a larger crisis being ignored."
That problem is not the legacy of colonialism, Angus said, but it's continued practice in northern First Nation communities.
"These people are handcuffed to a colonial system. The federal government treats these communities as children of the state."
Angus and Bisson agree that the only way to reach a sustainable solution is to start a conversation about the Indian Act.
"They're living under an administration that is as colonial as anything that happened in Africa in the 19th century," said Angus.
Bisson argued the act needs to be overhauled to allow First Nations to own their homes as private property, something the legislation currently prohibits.
Not being able to own property means First Nations residents can't mortgage their homes to access capital to start businesses and makes it impossible for local governments to levy taxes to pay for infrastructure upgrades.
Neither men said they're optimistic about real long-term change unless the wider public pressures government and the INAC bureaucracy.
"The federal government knows most people will never visit Attawapiskat, no one will ever see it. I don't think most people know how bad it is but if the average citizen sees it, they'll become an advocate in two minutes.," Bisson said.
Housing crisis plagues Northern Ontario reserve
Attawapiskat First Nation waiting on government funding to renovate 15 houses
CBC News
Posted: Nov 9, 2011
The Attawapiskat First Nation in northeastern Ontario says its housing shortage has turned into a crisis.
In the isolated James Bay community of Attawapiskat, houses are so overcrowded that some families are living in shacks and tent frames. As the temperature drops, the community is calling for help.
Lisa Marie Linklater is bracing for another winter in a tent frame.
"There's six of us — four of my kids, me and my husband,” she said. “We have no washroom, no running water. It's hard, especially in winter times."
There's a wood stove and a couple of mattresses on the plywood floor. To get electricity, they run extension cords from the house next door.
Her mother, Stella Kioke Koostachin, is so frustrated with the situation, it brings tears to her eyes.
She has been writing to First Nations leaders and Timmins-James Bay politicians for help.
"They really need to step up and do something about it,” she said. “I mean, people need to realize how we're living up here."
She said she doesn't want to see her grandchildren spend a third winter in a tent frame.
[Left: Lisa Marie Linklater and Attawapiskat First Nation Chief Theresa Spence said they are not looking forward to living in tent frames like this one, for a third winter in a row. (Allison Dempster/CBC)]
Chief Theresa Spence said about half of the houses need major renovations or are condemned.
About 1,800 people live in Attawapiskat. There are 303 houses on the reserve. That's roughly six people to a house.
Chief Theresa Spence said about half of the houses need major renovations or are condemned.
The problems include sewage leaks, leaky rooves, and mold.
But people still live in the houses — or next to them — in shacks.
Multi-million dollar proposition
"When you're living in a small room with kids, it [has a] social impact,” she said.
“You don't have your own kitchen, your own fridge, you have to share with everybody, you have to wait for your shower."
Spence figures the community needs 200 houses, which is a multi-million dollar proposition.
For now, she's asked the federal Department of Aboriginal Affairs for $400,000 to renovate 15 houses.
There has been no word from the government on whether it will grant the funding.

Also See:
Canada - First Nations are Victims of the Government! (Part 1)
27 July 2007
Conflict Between the Canadian Government and the First Nations People
12 January 2010