Attawapiskat, action needed!

Update, November 28

The Red Cross plans to be in the community tomorrow “to identify and address urgent, short-term needs.”  The community has apparently asked the Red Cross to manage donations to the community, so for all of you who have been looking for a way to contribute, you can donate to Attawapiskat here.

I am very disturbed by this quote:

In a statement Monday, Duncan’s office said the federal government is “deeply concerned about this situation.”

“Since coming to government, we have invested significant funding to the Attawapiskat First Nation,” the statement continues. “Officials from the Department of Aboriginal Affairs are in the community [Monday] to investigate why conditions are as poor as they are, given the significant funding for housing, infrastructure, education, and administration.”

Nothing like an implied accusation of corruption on top of an already incredibly hostile reaction from many Canadians to this story (as evinced by the comment section in any article discussing the community).  Keep it classy, Duncan.


I would have written about this days ago, but I am down for the count with pneumonia.  Charlie Angus, member of Parliament for Timmins-James Bay in the Huffington Post has done a bang up job of describing the intolerable conditions faced by the people of Attawapiskat on the western side of the James Bay.  This is a community that needs immediate emergency intervention, and the lack of response to the problem is a disturbing example of how deep indifference and racism against aboriginal people runs in this country.

Yes, that’s right.  Racism.  The word we supposedly ‘throw around too much’ despite so many examples of it in practice (anyone remember body bags being sent to ‘help’ with H1N1 in northern aboriginal communities?).  Conditions like these would never be left unaddressed in a non-native community.  It should be unthinkable to do nothing in the face of this kind of need, regardless of whose community it is.

Please, please write the ‘Honourable’ John Duncan, Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, to demand action be taken to save the lives of fellow human beings in what is supposedly a developed nation.

You can reach him by email at:

Please also CC on this email the following people:

Federal  Aboriginal Affairs critics, Carolyn Bennett ( and Linda Duncan (

Federal  Aboriginal Affairs shadow minister, Todd Russell (

Minister of Aboriginal Affairs for the province of Ontario, Kathleen Wynne (

Provincial Official Aboriginal Affairs critic, Jerry Ouellette (

There is also a petition here.  However, personal emails are very much needed.

About âpihtawikosisân

Métis from Lac Ste. Anne, Alberta. Currently living in Montreal, Quebec. Passions: education, Aboriginal law, the Cree language, and roller derby. Education: BEd, LLB, working on a BCL
This entry was posted in INAC, Injustice, James Bay Cree and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to Attawapiskat, action needed!

  1. korahomes says:

    I had no idea that First Nations oppression was just as severe across the border. I am far from surprised because it has surmounted both nations since they began. But from what I understood, First Nations rights were suppose to be progressive and superior to that in the United States. This is very disheartening.

    • On this side of the border, we often hear that tribal sovereignty in the US is superior to the system of federal micromanagement here. Yet I’ve met enough natives from the Great Knives nation (lol, that’s the Cree name for the US, kihci-môhkomâninâhk) to know that we’ve all got plenty of the same problems.

      There is definitely a myth that Canada is in general more progressive and superior to the US. It is an attitude that breeds complacency, and causes us to fail to notice the areas we should be ashamed of. “To progress” is a verb. It has to be acted on to exist.

  2. Ed says:

    The following is a personal email I have sent to John Duncan. It might be of use to anyone else looking for ideas, or even a template, for their own letter/email. Not to say that many of you haven’t already sent your own regards, nor that you don’t have your own ideas to bring up. I just thought I’d put it out there.

    Dear Minister Duncan,

    I am writing to you regarding the current situation in the Cree
    community of Attawapiskat. As a concerned taxpayer, I hope that I will
    have your attention for a moment or two.

    Frustration at the lack of an appropriate and timely response to the
    present crisis has evolved into a sense of shame; I am ashamed to live
    in a country as wealthy as Canada that must rely on the Red Cross to
    step into a crisis situation and provide relief for the people of
    Attawapiskat. The responsibility to take such action clearly falls
    under the fiduciary obligations of the Government of Canada.

    Taking finances out of the control (albeit partial) of the Band
    Council, and requesting an audit of prior finances, will not help the
    people who need help now. An appropriate response would be to provide
    shelter for the band members who need it. Then, and only then, would
    it be appropriate to look into the financial history of this
    community. Contempt for alleged misuse of funds, or searching for
    blame, will do nothing to solve the present crisis.

    Minister Duncan, these people need shelter immediately. And I
    respectfully request that you use the tax revenue at your disposal to
    go to Attawapiskat at your soonest possible convenience, and tell the
    community they will be provided for.

    While there, you will also find that the community is still without a
    proper school building. As a teacher myself, I find it appalling that,
    despite the valiant efforts of the late Shannen Koostachin, this
    community is still without access to a proper school.

    Finally, Minister Duncan, I am hopeful that the unfortunate
    experiences in this community, though by no means isolated, will
    prompt a concerted effort on your part, and that of the members of
    your department, to find lasting solutions to the decades-old problems
    faced by First Nations, Inuit, and Metis people across the country.

    I respectfully request a reply to these concerns.

    Thank you for your time.

    • Lorne Kenney says:

      Great great letter. I’m going to use almost all of it although I confess I can’t bring myself to include the last two sentences. I know they are just there as a matter of politesse and are not meant to convey any special meaning. Generally speaking, I am as form-bound, discrete and polite as they come but I just can’t bring myself to say things I don’t feel comfortable saying but I really don’t feel like being very gentile towards Minister Duncan.

  3. Suzanne says:

    Thank you Ed! We have a student conference and we are encouraging students to write as well.

  4. Thanks for sharing the knowledge! Would it be possible for you to contact me? A group of friends and i are trying to do more than follow this situation from a distance. We actually have a really interesting idea that we are currently setting in motion to propose solutions. I would very much like to hear what you might have to say or suggest. please email me.

  5. Thank you for an interesting and informed piece. I, too, have been somewhat amazed at looking at the numbers and wondering what is behind the government’s reaction.

    Unfortunately, I don’t know if Mr. Harper’s reaction is either naiveté or simply a method of deflecting the blame. Neither would be good and, regardless of the cause for his statements, he really should have a long look at the meaning of the term “feduciary responsibility.”

    If one really worries about the $90 million, think of it in these terms. It amounts to about $10,000 per person in the community per year. Given the amount of taxation subsidy in Canada for services at all levels of government, I seriously suspect that if the federal, provincial and municipal governments’ contribution to people in the south were that low on an annual basis, there would be an uproar. What is sauce for the goose is not always sauce for the gander.

    I’d also like to bring up the point that Attawapiskat has been comanaged by AANC for about 12 years. In short, there is actually additional federal oversight for the band. Minister Duncan’s comments that he did not know the situation suggests that he really needs to pay attention within his own portfolio.

    This problem by no means restricted to Attawapiskat, nor is it the failure of a single political party. However, it is time for the current party in power to step up to the plate and end the sorry state of First Nation’s housing in the north. Yes, they may have to drop one of their pet programs to pay for this. But, it’s called priorizing. It’s what adults do…

  6. Cate says:

    I am so sorry that this type of behaviour exists within our country and I hope that we will see people from all races speak up and refuse to allow ‘our’ government to treat anyone in such a way. I find it completely unacceptable and see that as soon as this began to garner wide spread attention, they (Harper government), were pretty quick to start their ‘smear campaign’ against the Attawpiskat people. I may not be First Nations but I see right through their Cover Your Ass tactics. I intend to hold them to account and don’t believe their attempts to discredit the people suffering atrocious conditions. I believe we can affect change and that it is only right that we stand up for people that have been treated so badly for far too long.

    I started posting about this topic as soon as I came across an article about it and did find that I also had some negative comments leveling the sorts of accusations you discuss in your other blog post, and yes some also curious as to how this situation came about, almost immediately. I intend to post your blog post addressing these questions/accusations/racist comments on their pages, and will re-post it for anyone showing interest.

  7. Pingback: Let’s Occupy #Attawapiskat in Twitter on December 7 : Politics, Re-Spun

  8. Daryl says:

    I don’t see it as corruption at the band level, rather a systemic form of bureaucratic graft, and grotesque inefficiencies and micromanagement of the same type that Rick Hillier talks about in his book “a soldier first”. Which are probably common to all government branches where top bureaucrats have been given free reign (by lazy, hoodwinked, or incompetent politicians) to set up their own duchies. Reformation of these depts. is what is needed not dis-assembly, What after all is wrong with getting rid of the micro management and holding the band council responsible for administering their own raw budget? Then at least the people living there would know who to bitch at, or congratulate. I think they should be looking at ways to decentralize the actual administration of band funds while writing a best practices book for things such as building codes and infrastructure. (I still can’t figure out why the national building code doesn’t apply to reserves, that’s just bizarre. Or why band budgets count education and so forth differently from regular municipalities, equally bizarre.)

    I also don’t see why people would think that this is something new, I’m sure this has been going on for at least the past 2 generations. Years ago I heard the rumour that only about 12% of a given band’s allocated funding actually makes it visibly to the band level. Which looks to be consistent with what I’m seeing here, everything else is absorbed in stuff we living off the reserves take for granted as “invisible” benefits of taxation, roads, medical education etc. I used to think this was just criminally massive bureaucratic inefficiency, but I see now that it is both that and some mighty weird other complications in the mix. Personally I don’t think more gov’t oversight is the answer, they make it so everything is so wrapped up in red tape, ya can’t pour piss from a boot >because< the instructions for doing so are printed on the sole.

    What I'd like to ask you is this. What do you think would be necessary to do to increase entrepeneurship on the reserves and to essentially create internally self supporting economies on reserves? What changes need to happen to free up that bottleneck of creativity and energy I see in native people when talking one on one yet is incongruous with the more usual image of a beaten down, wrecked, reserve town?

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