What is Chief Spence hiding? Not your logical fallacy.

This is the question of the day (week/month), isn’t it?  Cue the accusations of fraud, of theft, of corruption.  All made without a shred of evidence to support them.  Made as though such statements are self-evident.  Self-evidentiary.  Obviously true.  The question itself frames the discussion.  The question even answers itself.

Logical fallacies are bad, m’kay?

Asking, “what is Chief Spence hiding” is begging the question.  It is a logical fallacy.  As any forum warrior knows, identifying logical fallacies gets you ‘points’ in discussions, and so a lot of people have become somewhat familiar with them despite misusing them constantly.  Nonetheless, for those of you not familiar with this particular logical fallacy, I’ll explain.

Begging the question is when the thing you want to prove is assumed to be true in the question itself.  “What is Chief Spence hiding” assumes that in fact, Chief Spence is hiding something, and the real question is merely what that something is. No proof is offered to support the assertion that she is hiding anything at all, it is merely seen as obvious.

The question people should be asking if they are honestly interested in this is, “why is Chief Spence rejecting third-party management?”

If the answer turned out to be, “because the third-party manager would find out that Chief Spence if the Imelda Marcos of the North”, fine.  Snap the photos of her $3million collection of designer shoes and then say, “well she was hiding this!  Ha, in your FACE unpronounceably named Métis blogger!”.

However, phrasing the inquiry in a way that essentially assumes her guilt is utterly dishonest. It isn’t very effective either, if you are genuinely wondering what the heck is going on.

Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence

This is another logical fallacy powering many of the claims being made all over the comments sections right now.  The logical fallacy wizards love the latin term, argumentum ad ignorantiam.  I prefer the above titled phrase because it’s just so darn catchy.  It’s also a little nicer than the English term, “argument from ignorance“.

This lovely little fallacy has people making claims based on lack of evidence to the contrary.  The classic, “if you can’t prove this thing I’m saying is false, then it must be true!”

It is being used like this: “You can’t show me evidence that Chief Spence isn’t lining her pockets and covering it up, therefore that is precisely what she is doing!”

Of course it isn’t phrased so obviously.  It usually comes out in a series of exchanges, starting with the question/accusation in the first fallacy.  If anyone dares to question such an obvious truth, then immediate proof that she isn’t hiding anything is demanded.  The burden is completely shifted from the person making the accusation, on to the person who has questioned it.  When you can’t provide conclusive evidence of lack of hiding/fraud/corruption/whatever, then you are told basically that lack of evidence (to the contrary) is evidence of absence.

It would be as fallacious to tell someone that an inability to definitively prove lack of (fraud/corruption/hiding/whatever) means that there is no (fraud/corruption/hiding/whatever).  However, one approach is definitely more prejudicial than the other.  The approach that assumes fraud and corruption in First Nations is a popular and damaging one, made all the worse for the lack of any attempt to prove the claims beyond engaging in logical fallacies.

…and knowing is half the battle!

When you recognise how the discussion is being framed (muahaahaha!), you can avoid falling into the incredibly frustrating trap of defending against something you aren’t really arguing.  Why should you spend your time defending Chief Spence?  Why should you spend your energy defending First Nations against charges of corruption and fraud, when there is no real evidence of such?

Forget it.  Reframe the question in your own mind, and perhaps do the same for others.  “What is going on?”  “Why did Chief Spence ask the third-party manager to leave?”

There will be theories, there will be accusations, there will be some few reasonable suggestions.  There will be more worthy discussions.

Forced to defend herself and the community

Chief Spence has made public a number of press releases since the media storm made Attawapiskat one of the few Cree words all Canadians can now pronounce accurately.

The first was released on December 1st, and dealt with the imposition of third-party management as well as accusations being made about how no one knows where ‘all that money’ goes in Attawapiskat.

The second was released on December 5th, and addressed the uglier and more bizarre accusations.  I’d like to call this whole series of episodes”Zamboni-gate”.

The release I really want you to look at was published December 11.  I want to note that these statements do not constitute evidence.  They are not proof, nor am I conflating them with such.  Nonetheless, Chief Spence attempts to address the many accusations being made. This press release provides her version of the events.  If we are going to continue this trial in the arena of public discussion, then at the very least, she should be heard.

Feel free to reject her reasoning as flawed, go ahead and claim it further proves she is indeed “hiding something”.  But don’t be surprised when your fellow commentators start asking you for actual evidence for your claims beyond your opinion.  Such requests are overdue in this national discussion.

Update (Dec. 21): Here is a fantastic article on why audits are not the answer.

Let’s kick it up a notch, Canada

This discussion matters.  This discussion has us asking questions about fundamental relationships.  This discussion has us asking questions about our system and our history, and many people are realising they just don’t understand what is happening.  Best of all, this discussion has us asking “why don’t we understand what is happening*?”

I submit to you that this lack of understanding can be fixed.  We absolutely can take this opportunity to learn more about the background and the context that has us all talking about a tiny native community most Canadians had never heard of until now.

We can begin by paying attention to the assumptions being made, the logical fallacies clouding the discussion, and the utter lack of any principle of “innocent until proven guilty” in the national discussion.  Yup, I’m appealing to all sorts of ‘western’ philosophical and procedural traditions here.  I’m appealing to what I consider to be the best of what Canada has to offer.

Right now, we are stuck in an adversarial battle that is further dividing us, and I don’t just mean natives versus non-natives.  There are plenty of non-aboriginal Canadians who are truly sickened by the way these discussions have developed.  This path will bring false closure much more quickly than a real national discussion, and perhaps this easy way out is preferable to some.  Few people enjoy having those ‘relationship discussions’.

But we’re going to have to do it someday.  I see no reason to continue putting it off.  Let’s just admit we had a fight so we can stop feeling defensive, and let’s get talking like we want this thing we have to last.

‎As Paul Simon once said, “breakdowns come and breakdowns go, so what are we going to do about it, that’s what I’d like to know. You don’t feel you could love me but I feel you could”.

Update: Here is an excellent discussion that goes beyond the surface details and too-familiar accusations.  Make sure you check out the interview after the panel discussion.

*for those logical fallacy wizards among you, note that this question is aimed at those who do not understand what is happening and is thus not begging the question.  If you feel you have it all figured out, I urge you to share your knowledge with those of us who are still struggling to make sense of it all.

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 Alienation, Injustice, Representation of natives and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

61 Responses to What is Chief Spence hiding? Not your logical fallacy.

  1. steve richter says:

    LOVE THIS BLOG….Keep up the great work !

  2. Alison Bradshaw says:

    Fabulous point- and a welcome parry to the many uninformed comments on so many mainstream articles about Attawapiskat. It is truly depressing to read them, and realize how right wing media have shaped & continue to shape the discussion to maintain a level of ignorance and profound use of smoke & mirrors “look over here- see the $s involved……pay no attention to the fundamental problem which exists”.
    I hope blog readers are doing what I am and sharing your blog widely, freely and at every opportunity. We need to combat the true ignorance out there-only when people “get it” will things change for First Nations people.

    • Kylie says:

      I agree that the uninformed commends are depressing and a little discouraging because I’m not sure if I belive people can pull themselves out of their own ignorance and start asking the questions that really matter. The trouble is that I think its probalby fair to say that the “right wing media” are in the dark as well. By the nature of your comment, it sounds as thought the right wing media have a conspiracy to keep people ignorant. While I agree with this in part, I can’t help but think that these very people have no clue what the fundamental problems are because they themselves are not asking the right questions. This is a challenge that our nation has to face and not just the right wing media (or right wingers in general). What is the fundamental problem? What are the right questions? I won’t accept that the fundamental problem is simply a lack of funding from the government. That’s part of it, no doubt, but certainly only one peice of a much more complex issue. What I love about this blog is that I feel like, for the first time in my life, I’m reading about the right questions and not just rhetoric on one side or another. There are not necessarily solutions in this blog, but at least she’s starting with the right questions. Its refreshing and I am looking forward to the dialouge that may come from it.

      • I think this is a fair comment. I’ve had more contact with various media sources in the past week or so than I ever expected, and I’ve found everyone to be pretty decent. They ask good questions including, “how can we take this story further than just he said/she said?”

        I also think a lot of the people engaging in these logical fallacies aren’t doing it on purpose to mess with the discussion. Most people don’t know how it impacts the form of the debate when they start out with false premises…heck, most don’t even realise what they are doing at all. That’s not to say I think everyone is ignorant, or that it is okay for certain people to continue to do this. Particularly the Blatchfords and Levants and other ‘opinion shapers’. They need to be called out on their factually starved logical fallacies.

        • lproudfoot says:

          A friend and I have been talking about sending copies of Seeing Red: A History of Natives in Canadian Newspapers (Anderson & Robertson; 2011) to various media outlets …. now I’m thinking maybe targetting ‘opinion shapers’ might be the way to go.

          I haven’t managed to finish the book yet – in no small part because it makes me ‘see red.’ I didn’t realize what a clever title it was at first. It is not ~quite~ as infuriating as hearing/reading the discussions about Attawapiskat right now (SO discouraging) … but close.

  3. Brian Newton says:

    Thanks for another great post on this! Your voice is certainly valuable here.

    I’ve contributed to the comments on Huffingtonpost, positively I think, but several have been blocked, so it’s great to have your input on this in such a big way. And to have the opportunity to post a reply of appreciation on your blog!

  4. I love your last sentence.

  5. Jeanette says:

    Another win.

  6. Tina Crowe says:

    Keep up the good work! We are all listening! Thank you for all you do to enlighten the rest of Canada! You give us a leg to stand on here, and for that many blessings to you and all of those you love!

  7. Sarah says:

    Love this blog. Finally, someone who has a clue!

  8. H. Harvey says:

    What’s more important than smokescreening the issues here with Anglo rhetoric and quasi-legal paraphrasing by most parties who choose to be or have to be involved here,is: what is the real snapshot of Attawapiskat?

    Is it really as poor as the initial “state of emergency” newsclips showed or is it a little wealthier? Or poorer? What is the percentage of employment based on the number of employable people? How does the average citizen from outside determine if the crises is really that?

    Let’s face it: the fact they HAVE a multi-faceted sports complex is both good and indicative of a degree of both organization and, hey, wealth.My reserve doesn’t have one, and I don’t see that it ever will. We sure couldn’t float a $3M loan with any bank.There have been comments and questions about the Ottawa Trust Account that Attawapiskat supposedly has: how much is there and, if the numbers I read are true, why isn’t some of this directed to the “state of emergency” situation?
    And without going into a long song and dance about it, I wouldn’t mind knowing who owned the SUV that came into view more than once in the original newsclip feature. Nothing personal, just business – BUT transparency is tantamount if Indians reputations as owners and stewards of their land are to be credible, not just at Attawapiskat but across the country.

    • What exactly is your claim here? It seems to be, “these people actually do have the money to pay for housing but they didn’t because of (insert the rest of your claim here)”. If this is inaccurate, you have my apologies.

      In addition, can you please clarify what you mean by transparency? What is it that you expect from Attawapiskat aside from the information they have already freely provided to anyone who would like to see it?

      • H. Harvey says:

        The Indian band I belong to had a shortfall in housing expenditures – we had a general band meeting – we voted to utilize funds held in the Ottawa Trust and we did – we no longer have ANY money in trust – end of statement. I’m not looking for apologies, I’m flat out asking 1) Is there a Trust Account, and 2) how much is in it? Period.
        Next up: You obviously need me to write you a letter : Somebody who was leading the news media around was driving a Cadillac Escalade – not your average rez type vehicle. I’m asking who owned it? Really not great for “poor Indian” PR. You talk the talk, how about getting the full picture out to those who could be interested in helping Indians, not just Attawapikatians? I want to see what the average band member has to say about the C&C, the grass roots band member who doesn’t get fed by the band wagon. I wouldn’t mind seeing the AVERAGE house on the reserve, not a few hand picked shanties.
        I would hazard a guess frankly, that you haven’t spent a lot of time with your boots on the ground in a real reservation environment, where relatives are first in line for jobs and the biggest industry is the band office.
        And the house I grew up in didn’t have mouldly insulation because it didn’t have any insulation, the windows were plastic and the plumbing was non-existant. My family survived. How much of that do your bloggers get?

        • It’s a little difficult to ignore the disrespectful tone you’ve adopted with phrases like, “You obviously need me to write you a letter” and “you haven’t spent a lot of time etc etc.” Nonetheless, I’m going to try to at least not it get to me.

          That doesn’t mean I’m not going to call you out on it.

          I’d like to ask you why you think it’s in any way appropriate to demand I provide you with answers or refute your accusations about myself or about this community? Why on earth would I give your accusations the slightest credit and defend myself, or this community against them? It is precisely that kind of attitude and approach I have written about in the post you are responding to. No.

          You can make such accusations, based on nothing more than your opinion, but you do not get to insist I take them at all seriously. Why? Because your opinion is not evidence.

          You’ll note there are a number of things I do not do.

          I do not claim that this community is properly managed and that the Chief and Council are innocent of any wrongdoing. Nor do I claim the opposite.

          I do not make claims about Harper or Duncan that are not backed up by evidence. When I offer an opinion, I clearly indicate it is such and do not attempt to pass it off as fact.

          I do not demand that you explain to me why you are defending Harper, what you personally have against Chief Spence, why you are so jealous of another community, why you know nothing about life on a reserve or other ridiculously personal and baseless things. I don’t consistently ‘beg the question’ and poison my words towards you.

          So if you actually want me to respond to you, I suggest you try again, with less in the way of assumptions and more in the way of contribution to a dialogue. You’ve got some good stuff buried in there, but I’m not wading through the logical fallacies or personal attacks to get at it.

  9. ndnsurgency says:

    You are rad! keep it up please. I have a tumblr and i’ve posted your articles several times because of how well you put together your posts. Check it out sometime– my last post was about this post! Meegwetch Apihtawikosisan!! http://ndnsurgency.tumblr.com

  10. morehistory says:

    Another great post. Let’s hope if it finds it’s way into the NP this time, they credit you properly. 🙂

  11. Mallory says:

    I’m a university student, and I deeply care about this issue. Not because I am extensively educated in Aboriginal issues, but because I’m not.I feel like there is something irksome about how I grew up without learning anything about issues concerning the relationships within Canada concerning Aboriginal issues. I really had no clue what was going on when the Attiwapiskat crisis blew up on the news. I would read comments on the popular news websites and I knew something was not right and the way people were reacting with anger and cynicism. I found this blog and I am so happy to have some background to the issue. I really believe that there is hope for Canada, I think that we can learn and we can make this better together together.

  12. Nokamis says:

    “They need to be called out on their factually starved logical fallacies.”

    “Chief Spence has made public a number of press releases since the media storm made Attawapiskat one of the few Cree words all Canadians can now pronounce accurately.”

    “The second was released on December 5th, and addressed the uglier and more bizarre accusations.  I’d like to call this whole series of episodes”Zamboni-gate”.”

    You are aptly hitting the nail square on the head apihtawikosisan and with humor…love it!
    Gchii-Miigwech 🙂

  13. H. Harvey says:

    I don’t plan on debating your logic, to you it’s worthy of the time you spend on it and I say “Good on you!”. Overall you make sense but I’m not comfortable with your personal rationalizations.
    I couldn’t be further from a defender of Harper, he epitomizes the stereotypical redneck Albertan attitude that prevents poor Indian bands like mine and a couple hundred others from ever getting a $3M line of credit or loan or whatever. I know nothing more about Chief Spence than what she has spoke and what her newsclips are saying, I couldn’t envision myself speaking poorly about someone I know nothing about.
    Having said that, I plain and simple would like to know, even from Ms. Spence, about the Trust Fund, if there is one and how much is in it? That’s not dislike, in fact that’s “like” – for the truth. What do you find so disagreeable about that?? And as far as the SUV goes, you asked about ‘transparency’ – I find it really difficult to listen to someone rail on about poverty, and a shortage of housing when in fact, there could be bank loans, lines of credit and, finally, maybe Trust Funds, to help out here. HOW POOR ARE YOU, CHIEF SPENCE?
    Indians have to first take ownership of the roots of some of the problems on reserves such as a lack of will to provide a roof over our own members, by whatever means, or for drug and alcohol issues within communities, whether they be on Capilano or Tahltan.
    We cannot continue to wave the white flag of submission whenever the river rises or the forest burns – that has happened in history many times before.
    So don’t take my comments too personally, I just voice my own experiences and find that sometimes the truth gets muddled up with rhetoric and visions of the proud Indian on a horse, up on a hill in front of a herd of buffalo with a red tail hawk screeching in the back ground – damn, that stereotypical thing again.

    • Please note that I quite specifically was not accusing you of being a Harper supporter…I simply chose some of the most offensive things I could think of to highlight my point 😀

      As for what you think you know of my ‘personal rationalisations’…I can assure you we haven’t gotten there.

      I agree with you about annoying stereotypes like the one you’ve described very visually.

      Here’s the problem I have with your question about the Trust Fund. The way you introduced your question was to discuss a scenario where it was possible to decide as a community to empty it. We do not know the particular way this trust is set up. Trusts can be extremely complicated and very restricted…often they are designed this way to ensure that funds continue to be available far into the future. In other cases, it’s much simpler to empty the funds in the way you describe…but I felt it was unfair to apply one situation to another when we do not have the facts. As for other questions related to the trust fund…what I have seen reported in the media and heard through the moccasin telegraph, the IBA with deBeers has been very controversial on a number of levels with questions being asked by community members, leaders etc. However that is not all exactly relevant to the housing issue.

      The problem I have with discussions of SUVs and flat screen tvs and sports centres is that once again, accusations are implied. Are you aware that there are ‘nice’ homes in Attawapiskat too? Must people then sell off their nice homes or else no cry for help from people living in shacks is valid? I don’t get it. It’s like talking about her salary…what is your point? On one hand you reject stereotypes about the ‘proud Indian on a horse’, yet you bring up the presence of ‘modern’ and ‘nice’ things as though they are proof of…..well, I don’t know what.

      “Indians have to first take ownership of the roots of some of the problems on reserves…” before what? Before anything? Is this like, “you have to agree to a forensic audit which must be completed before you get any immediate interventionary help?”

      Sorry, I disagree this is a prerequisite, as though it must happen and be completed before any other work can be done. How about, “First Nations must ALSO take ownership for the roots of some of the problems on reserves…”

    • Nokamis says:

      “Trusts can be extremely complicated and very restricted…often they are designed this way to ensure that funds continue to be available far into the future. In other cases, it’s much simply to empty the funds in the way you describe…but I felt it was unfair to apply one situation to another when we do not have the facts.”

      Exactly apihtawikosisan! I suggest H. Harvey that you could indeed put your question “HOW POOR ARE YOU, CHIEF SPENCE?” directly to her in an attempt to glean this fact, although I certainly don’t recommend it as it would, in my opinion, be in the poorest of taste. Chief Spence has a point of contact at her First Nation’s website.


      • H. Harvey says:


        I don’t mean Chief Spence personally, I mean the band she is the head of. Do they have the means as a tribe to look out for the people who are in need, without going ‘hat in hand’ to INAC/Harper/Feds? And as far as the Ottawa trust accounts for Indians go, pretty much every band in Canada has a trust fund account, although for some it is very empty.
        In my lifetime I can never recall our band trust account at being over $1.5 M, that’s 1 and 1/2 million. Yet when people who did work on our reserve housing needed to be paid that was the default source – and I fully supported it, would do it again today. That is my point, completely and without underlying ‘poor taste’ or whatever judgment you would use.
        I again say it’s not about Chief Spence personally but about what assets the band controls – and despite your protestations I’m confident Attawapiskat could access their trust fund for immediate use in an emergent case such as she has put forward. Then again, if there is no trust fund, it’s a moot point. Therefore;”transparency”.

        Let’s not fool each other – Ottawa held trust accounts are readily available for use by the membership on a majority vote at a council meeting.

        At the end of the day what I’m stating here is put it out on the table, Attawapiskat Band – if you have money tucked under the band mattress use like you would in a war to defend your home – if not, then you deserve the help you ask for. As a band (not a blog or a chief) you have the spotlight, let’s be sure it’s truly a NEED because I know lots of bands who DO need housing starts/repairs/financing blah, blah…..

        No real mystery to that logic, and I don’t need a PHD to ‘rationalize’ it.
        there from behind

  14. Marc André says:

    Thank you for posting a link to a logical fallacy resource. Framing and the rampant use of fallacies are characteristic of most current day government and corporate discourse. I’m not saying peeps before them didn’t use them… but once again… your post comes at the right time and place. I had trouble finding a good fallacy resource before, but this one looks both comprehensive, and easy to understand. Awesome! I honestly believe that this should be taught to people as soon as they can understand it and that it should be considered a basic aptitude necessary to function properly in society, on par with math and literacy skills. Keep on keepin on!

    • I’ve just found it helpful in terms of not getting so frustrated when these debates go in circles because the premises are flawed. I’ve seen people use the identification of logical fallacies to shut down conversation though. If you’ve spent any time on online discussion forums, you will often see people calling absolutely everything a ‘strawman argument’ or an ‘ad hominem’. That can get annoying too. So I think it is good to learn this sort of thing so you can avoid using them…but not if it’s just a way to ‘score points’.

      • Marc André says:

        I agree. In the sense you describe it being used… it merely amounts to bullying. Maybe in a sense this could eventually be extrapolated into an implied “appeal to force” fallacy followed by an “arguing from ignorence” fallacy. Ie : if you try to disprove me, I’ll accuse you of putting forth a strawman argument. Thus you do not counter my rantings, and thus I win because you fail to offer any evidence to the contrary. ha. I jest.

        Anyways, I think that what it indicates to me is that my interlocutor is either mis-informed, or if they aren’t then they are being dishonest. Also, instead of just saying “aha! you’re abusing the person!” and then sit back with a smug smile (which could be tremendously satisfying at times, but probably incomprehansible to most…”what’s he smiling about?”) … it also provides you with clues about how to dis-mantle the fallacious statement and show it to be BS by asking a few clever questions. Like all tools, there are proper uses and improper ones… like trying to drive a nail with a tennis racket. 🙂

  15. Kirk says:

    I can’t tell you how much I appreciate your blog and your responses to people with ill-informed opinions. I have a hard time being as diplomatic, you have literally become a gauge for me (no pressure), (double metaphor, HA!). I don’t make apologies for feeling angry for much of this discourse we have been subjected to, I am very grateful for your blog and your amazingly informed opinions. Keep it coming, Nia:wen kowa

    • I’ve spent a lot of time being angry, and one thing I’ve discovered is that I can’t speak when I’m angry. If I can’t speak…I can’t be heard.

      • Kirk says:

        I get that, I had a hard time growing up, I was always the only Indian in school which meant I had to fight a lot. What this did was make it difficult to react to racism as an adult, it is a trigger, I was conditioned, I go into fight mode because that is what racism has always been for me, violence. Obviously, as an adult, I can’t do that. I just get up and leave when I experience it, have had to do that a few times lately. I don’t fight and I won’t fight as an adult but I will say that it is a very hard thing to resist considering, ignorance is a form of violence. Your blog is helping out a lot with this fact of my life it is very much appreciated and you deserve flowers or something…..

  16. SueZoo says:

    The more I read the less I know.

    I don’t remember now when I first found this blog, but I have been reading, reading, reading ever since.

    What I do know.
    -government budgets are an oxymoron. I had to learn to do one when I was managing a Flight Service Station in the High Arctic. I was terrified, accounting is not my forte. My training consisted of “add 10% to last year’s number” and “make sure you spend it all or they’ll cut it by what you don’t spend”. That is what I know about government budget processes.

    -When I first read that 3rd party management was being imposed upon Chief Spence I groaned aloud. I’ve seen that a decade of such management has not improved conditions in Wasagamach, why would anyone think it would help here?

    -I have been robbed. I took university entrance high school history and I don’t know squat about the Indian Act, Treaties, and First Nations History. So, more reading.

    -I have learned that the Truth and Reconciliation concept was originated in Latin America. huh. We, the “royal we”, Canadians, should be deeply shamed and looking for any and all opportunities to make amends. I had to stop reading on this internet thread, TRC, because I spent an entire day sobbing watching videos.

    -APTN is a great news source.

    -My MP was helpful! [This came as a great surprise and shock]. I emailed him and asked for the number, name of, state of water and housing on First Nations in our riding. His office responded promptly with a tonne of information. More reading.

    Back to more reading for me. Just coming up for air. Looking about at any new developments.

    Thank you for all your efforts and time spent on furthering our education. Thank you to your family for the time with you they’ve done with out and for any added stress this situation may be causing them. I truly appreciate it.


  17. Kevin says:

    I notice that some like to point out the big-screen T.V. ,or the S.U.V. seen in video clips, as a reason to question whether Chief and Council have directed funds wisely. Keep in mind that like the rest of Canada, city, provincial, or federal government is not accountable for the way individuals choose to spend their own income. Chief Spence should not have to answer for the personal decisions of individual band members, and should definitely not have to answer questions raised by video clips taken selectively in her home town. I don’t think anyone can withstand that degree of scrutiny.

    There are a few things in Attawapiskat that the video clips could have captured instead. For example – the Kataquapit Family operates the Kataquapit Inn, where I have stayed many nights. You will not find a family-operated business that is warmer or better, anyplace else in Ontario. The Koostachin Family provides many services to Attawapiskat as well. The Fireman Family worked hard to build the road between Attawapiskat and DeBeers’ Victor Mine, where the Kataquapit Family played a major role as well.

    The hockey Arena and Zamboni do not need to be justified to the rest of Canada. It is a community centre that brings people together through positive activity. On a provincial scale, we spend millions of dollars re-routing highways so people have a shorter drive to work in the morning.

    Stepping back to how “individuals choose to spend their own money”, Band Council and Canadian Government are supposed to have some of the basics covered. Under this regime,
    I would spend my dollars no differently than the average person from Attawapiskat;

    – I would buy a new outboard, snowmachine, rifle, firewood or bigscreen.
    – I would buy my kid new hockey equipment, so he or she can enjoy tomorrow.

    You have to walk a mile in another person’s shoes before judging.

    • Thank you.

      I have been utterly unwilling to even engage in this discussion, because it is strikes me as mean-spirited and unrealistic. Wider Canadian society has not solved homelessness, child poverty, drug addiction or a host of other social ills and yet First Nations are either intentionally or unintentionally held up to some sort of impossibly high standard. It is maddening!

      We know that there are systemic problems with funding delivery and federal programming that directly interfere with financial management in the communities. On top of that, you likely have the range of financial problems any community faces. But rather than acknowledge this, First Nations are expected to do better than communities which do not face such systemic obstacles.

      People pass along stereotypes about all First Nations being lazy and unemployed…while at the same time complaining that they aren’t paying income taxes. The irony is lost, the ridiculous double think goes unexamined.

      The righteous anger of the ‘tax payer’ fuelling the heated discussions is acceptable…but when the targets of accusations and ignorance tire of hearing the same b.s. over and over again, that is not acceptable. It’s scary, or proof of some other inherent flaw in First Nations. As with so many other peoples, natives must be saints when their attackers are free to get as ugly and dirty as they wish. Any human reaction beyond saintly nobility… hopelessness, fear, sadness, anger…those are used as ammunition against us.

      I hope no one thinks that I get any less fed up or angry or tired of all of this…so again I thank you for being a voice of reason when my own energies are low and I am unable to be as reasonable as I’d like.

    • morehistory says:

      Kevin says: The hockey Arena and Zamboni

      Well, the “angry taxpayers” seem to rant a lot about both of them. The facts are a bit more interesting then the rants.

      The Zamboni was paid for by the community through fundraising. I am awed and inspired by that kind of coming-together — and it shows how ignorant rants are about “spending money on Zambonis before houses” is.

      The arena, on the other hand, WAS paid for out of Taxpayer money. But from what I understand, not housing money, but Education money. And this is because the community has without a school with a gym, which most communities use for extra-curricular activities.

      Kevin says: we spend millions of dollars re-routing highways

      Yup, that is true. But that is in the name of “progress” and “efficiency”. It makes you wonder where our priorities are, when a few minutes faster commute is more important then all kinds of social issues.

      Kevin says: I would buy my kid new hockey equipment, so he or she can enjoy tomorrow.

      I think any parent could sub “new hockey equipment” for some other form of non-essential activity that their child enjoys. That smile from your child is worth ten times the material worth of the goods.

  18. Moira Dunphy says:

    In grade school one year, I got to be part of the team that delivered the Christmas baskets to the waiting families. At one apartment, the kids were dancing with excitement and eating potato chips. Back in the car, one girl said, ” wow, if they’re so poor, how come they’re eating chips? In the morning. We almost never get chips at MY home.”. Since her Mom was the driver, and she agreed with her, I said nothing. But when I saw the chips, my first thought was not envy, but thinking how difficult it must be to be poor and afford good food, and wondered how much time their Mom had to learn about nutrition, and how hard my brothers and I made it on our parents when we whined for things.

    Now, my Mom and older sister had started a food co-op in a low income community, so I was exposed to different ideas than my schoolmate. And, grown up, I can see how my experiences have made it easier to avoid knee-jerk reactions. I think of the potato chips every time I hear the ‘gosh, I’D like to have a TV like that’ comments. And then I remember my schoolmate who did NOT grow up in a home where such thinking was challenged, and if she is lucky she educated herself and was able to break that cycle, but because of her, I try not to have a knee-jerk reaction to the knee-jerk reactions. But it’s a challenge.

    I SO appreciate how much I am learning here, from you and from other posters. I cannot tell you how valuable it is to have you attempting to frame the conversation in a productive way. Hope you don’t feel it as a burden yet. I hope, as time goes on, that those of us still interested in learning will get pointed to other worthy blogs or websites. I feel like Canadians are waking up out of hibernation, and are out there, foraging for information. Thank you for feeding us!

    • I grew up in a one-room farm house with shredded newspaper as insulation in the walls and a wood/coal cookstove as the only source of heat (which is still how my parents heat their home). My father’s mother bought our family a satellite dish one year…one of those huge, clunky things that took forever to turn. Not a lot of families then had satellite dishes. Did the satellite dish make us well-off? Did it get rid of the mice in our walls and the bats in the ceiling? The juxtaposition certainly was visually jarring, but it did not signify we were deliberately living ‘below our means’ in an attempt to elicit sympathy. Did my grandmother do something horrible by providing us with this luxury instead of buying us a new home (the cost of which would certainly not have been covered by what she’d spent on the satellite anyway)?

      I have seen many households that work hard to hide the signs of poverty, but the poverty doesn’t disappear completely. I do hope people recognise that.

  19. Marehg says:

    Wow, you are an amazing woman speaking the truth. I am a white woman married to a Haida man and am living on reserve raising our daughter. I see the atrocities our government (meaning “white, canadian government) have committed, are committing and will continue to commit and am so sick of the colonial patronizing ways of the “system”. It is our responsibility (I mean us as “white” people”) to hold our government ACCOUNTABLE, tell them that this is not right and needs to change NOW!
    I have felt powerless but you have inspired me and I know now that even just conversations around the community is better than staying silent.

  20. H. Harvey says:

    We have something in common: we come out of impoverished backgrounds and we have Indian ancestry. And I know bats in the ceiling/walls aren’t fun.
    I wholly support Indian leaders who want to make it right for their people IF the need is evident. I’m not going to get into a long debate about what if’s or evidence or the lack of evidence being construed as evidence……
    I just want to be sure that it’s the needy who gets the helping hand, not the greedy. Therefore the questions about the trust fund – it will come out either by Chief Spence or INAC if it’s anywhere near what it’s rumored to be. I honestly hope her “state of emergency” is based on real need and in future she should learn that if you are going to go panhandling on skid row it really “skews the optics” if you’re driving a fancy truck.
    There’s absolutely no doubt in my mind that Canada as a nation who enjoys international support as a true “first world” country will have to be shamed into better treatment of it’s Indian people, it won’t do that from a position of what’s right or just, and most certainly not by Harper & Co.
    And I don’t need to walk in anybody’s shoes to understand poverty, discrimination, greed, corruption, or a whole raft of issues that, frankly, are seen throughout the world, not only on Indian reserves – we have company.

  21. More numbers to put this in perspective…and a suggestion that Toronto be put under third-party management:


  22. morehistory says:

    Help for Attawapiskat

    While I’ve got a great deal of education from the discussion, our local school has taken up a collection of blankets to send to the reserve. While it won’t solve their current crisis, it did show the wide compassion and caring there is out there in the community.
    Hopefully they will have a warm and happy Holiday season.

  23. You might find my recent blog entry of interest.”Canadian Miners Make the Big Move into Afghanistan: And We Wonder Why “They” Resist from Afghanistan to Attawapiskat”. http://michaelskinnerresearch.wordpress.com/2011/12/12/canadian-miners-make-the-big-move-into-afghanistan-and-we-wonder-why-they-resist-from-afghanistan-to-attawapiskat/

  24. Nokamis says:

    Thank you for this informative and eye opening article. As a truly uninformed Canadian Citizen (METIS) in most matters mining, this sheds a much needed light for me on the broader/global issues of corporate greed in this area as well as some of the finer details concerning mining operations in Attawapiskat. It allows for a glimpse at least of one of the broader threads in the fabric of systemic issues founded in greed affecting aboriginal peoples here and abroad.


    “What happens to the people of either Attawapiskat or Afghanistan is only of concern in this system of corporate/state empire when it negatively affects the corporate bottom-line and the wealth and power of the occupying states.
    I have no doubt many people in Canada, perhaps even a majority, are generally concerned about the welfare of our fellow human beings in places like Attawapiskat and Afghanistan.
    However, ours are not the loudest voices heard by the government. Look at lobby groups like the Canadian Association of Defence and Security Industries (CADSI) and the Canadian Council of Chief Executives (CCCE)  if you want to know who does have the most influential voices in government.”

    Begs the question doesn’t it – just how does the average Jo stand (collectively?) against these Goliath’s?

  25. Elizabeth Sacca says:

    âpihtawikosisân, Thank you for your writing!

    I would love to see a comparative analysis of the $ made by each of the following: De Beers Victor Mine, Federal government (royalities etc.), Provincial government (royalties, etc), and Attawapiskat (from each: Mine, Fed giv, prov gov, etc). If you know of such an analysis, could you post or direct me to it. Thanks!

  26. Benson Bear says:

    Could you explain why there is a surplus in the housing and infrastructure budgets in the recent accounting statements? This does not appear to make sense. The chief did not appear to explain this when asked, as shown on CBC. Can you explain and also refer to some official explanation that was offered? Thank you.

    • Chief Spence had this to say:

      “sometimes the audit is misinformed or the numbers are not right” and that the band had been spending all the money it received for housing.


      Also note that by the time those reports were published, over $2 million of budgeted federal dollars had not yet been received by the community. This is noted in the reports themselves.

      The many questions about ‘how to read the reports’ I think highlights an important fact. The average person is not equipped with the training or experience to fully understand financial statements like these. Overall, it is clear in the reports that this community continues to run a deficit…those are negative numbers. How it is possible to both run a deficit AND have a surplus, I have no idea, nor do I have the financial experience to compare this situation to any other to determine if this is normal or bizarre.

      • Benson Bear says:

        I saw the chief’s response on TV, but surely you don’t consider that adequate. Why and how are the number “uninformed”? Little doubt they spent the money, what did they spend it on and where is an accounting of that? Where in the reports is it noted that they had not received the monies that are actually listed in the reports as revenue? Note that in the case of housing, they had a large surplus carried over from the previous year. It is hard to believe that this was money that was listed as revenue from the previous year and which had still not yet been received. As for how it is possible to have a deficit and a surplus, that is easy. There are deficits on some line items and surpluses in others. The monies received are earmarked for specific purposes. On TV the chief said they spent the money, yes, but how? It does not seem to be possible to say from these documents but nothing else seems to be on offer. Is there? Can you refer to any document that gives an accounting of the spending? This I suppose is why they want someone else in there to take a look at things.

        • I don’t see how it’s up to me to explain everything to you, to answer every question. Nor am I going to spend my time and energy walking you through the reports further than I already did in a previous post.

          A forensic audit will be done. I am not the one who will do it and neither are you. You can wait for the results like everyone else who is so utterly focused on the financial issues involved here, to the complete exclusion of the larger systemic issues.

          And once more, Chief Spence has agreed all along to the financial audit.

          Please take your hectoring tone and your dozens of questions elsewhere.

        • morehistory says:

          Benson Bear says: I saw the chief’s response on TV, but surely you don’t consider that adequate.

          I’ve also seen Minister Duncan on TV, and some of his responses have been atrocious.
          As for the Chief’s response goes, I’m not sure even an accountant could break down individual line items in a cohesive way and still have it fit into a “good sound bite” which can be used in a TV newscast.

          Benson Bear says: I suppose is why they want someone else in there to take a look at things.

          Really? Then why not send in the forensic auditor, who will look at the books, rather then a 3rd party manager, whose job is to review current spending?

        • Rick Bisson says:

          Honest to God,I wonder If Chief Spence realizes how we are all being painted with the same brush. last saturday I went to The Toronto Sun to check the NHL scores I mishit the sports link and,at the bottom of the page and I saw “the whiteman” so I said what does the whiteman have to do with my beloved Bruins.then I realized what I was reading, and was reading real pure hate,I was floored.I saw the word whiteman at least 30 times you would have to read it to believe it, and the racist comments,OMG!Whether Chief Spencer is guilty or not,she deserves due process.This is 2011,and the Chief doesn’t deserve that.!
          They will get to the bottom of it soon enough.Time will tell.

  27. Onmyown says:

    •Costs of living in northern Aboriginal communities are considerably higher than costs in the rest of Canada. A bag of apples in Pikangikum is $7.65 (versus the Canadian average of $2.95) and a loaf of bread in Sandy Lake costs $4.17 (versus the Canadian average of $2.43). (Source: Canadian Association of Foodbanks). In Attawapiskat, 6 apples and 4 small bottles of juice currently costs $23.50 (Source: CBC).

    If you choose to live North, then don’t complain. You can leave anytime you want. I did.
    Edit: Keep your spurious accusations to yourself, thanks.

    Ms Spence does not want anyone in her books because she is terrifyed that the truth will come out. Guess what? It is just a matter of time Ms. Spence.

    • You seem to assume that bringing up the fact of higher costs of living in the North is ‘complaining’. I see it as important context, frankly. The fact of the higher cost of living in the North helps explain important concepts like how far a certain amount of money goes there, compared to other places.

      I also note that Chief Spence has repeatedly stated in the media that she is absolutely willing to cooperate with a forensic audit. Many people seem to forget that there is a difference between a forensic audit and third party management. Chief Spence objects to the latter, not the former.

      Thus your claim is incorrect.

      I hope this has been helpful to you, in the sense of giving you a less prejudicial view of the information you are referring to.

  28. Pingback: From the feed « Chris Corrigan

  29. Rick Bisson says:

    Over the last week ,I’ve been trying to defend Chief Spence I hate lynch mobs,I’ve read document after document to see what I could find.Two things I saw were,the Zamboni was bought using things such as bingo,bake sales……etc no taxmoney was spent.Another document she admits funds were borrowed from her Education Fund to help pay for their arena.The explanation she gave seemed on the up and up.Boom then it hit me if I could ask her 3 questions.My Perry Mason moment,

    That would be “With all due respect Chief Spence,why are you building an arena when some of your people are living in tents?Where is your priorities?”If every penny of money could accounted for,still why the arena?

    Now it’s time for you all,Statscan reports in 2008 $36 billion was lost to the Underground Economy,of that $1.3 billion was lost to under reported tips,You know Tim Horton servers and strippers,You know like the $5 in her g-string you gave her, that’s taxable income.I have 2 questions for you all,have you ever received a tip and did you report it to Revenue Canada?Second question,Did you tell your server or stripper,before I give you 1 more dollar, I want you to show me you paid taxes on my previous tip?

    I think they are all fair questions.

    The man we are soon to help celebrate his birthday once asked,
    ” Let he without sin cast the first stone ”

    I’m pretty sure of one thing, the children of Attiwapiskat are completely innocent because they are probably lousy tippers

    • Enid says:

      A rink will at least allow kids and adults some recreation in a depressed situation and economy. The Education Budget moment here is – hmmm… I may have a completely inadequate house, but at least I can get out to the arena and have some fun, play, get exercise, learn rules of the game, see others in my community, forget for awhile the complete disregard that the politicians and my so-called neighbours down-south have for me and my family and reserve. I’d call that money well-spent. Good work, Chief Spence.

  30. Enid says:

    I listened to (just by chance) Rex Murphy’s Cross Canada Checkup [phone-in show on CBC radio 6-7pm last Sunday Dec 11 2011] whose topic was Attawapiskat. While most of the callers were well-informed (First Nations people) and well-intended (non-natives who had worked on reserves), there was the stand-out idiot (ignorant of his white male privilege) who called upon his totally colonizer rhetoric to explain a solution to everybody. “Move them down south.” Remedial education is needed to inform such old farts and other misled majority in our population. I’m reading “Ending Denial” right now, and have spent the past year informally researching everything about FN, Inuit, Metis – languages, status rights, Indian /Aboriginal and Northern Affairs, treaties, RCAP (Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples), Meech Lake / Elijah Harper – I could go on – and I still don’t know enough! What’s got to stop is our non-native collective blindness to the Two-row Wampum and our obligation to work in parallel ways to First Nations. To respect and share with original peoples. Now that I know some things, I will never not know them. This has got to be the norm in the education of all Canadians about FN, not just Attawapiskat. And I believe it will benefit everybody.

  31. Nikpayuk says:

    Hello âpihtawikosisân,

    I have finished a project regarding your “Dealing with comments about Attawapiskat” article. I intend to present it here. Please forgive me, I mean no disrespect by commenting about a blog for which the comments are already closed; and further, by commenting on the “comment-space” of a different blog entirely. I do this here for the simple reason that I know nowhere else to post this.

    I have been thinking much about just how to present this project to you, and I’ve settled on the following explanation: I’ve made a map. Given that I’ve had to think about how to introduce it just right, I am also willing to say it’s not actually as straightforward as it sounds; I shall explain:

    I have taken the 1010 responses to the article and “classified” them. Your current layout of the responses is ideal for the forensic literarians who believe the landscape (or crime-scene) should be untouched before analysed, but it is not necessarily easily accessible for many others. I have marked-up the responses to indicate their categories. I have copied and pasted this catalogue at the end of this post (and just to warn you, it’s big, real big).

    The mark-up language I’ve used for the organisation of this body of text is that of Xml. It seems to be the standard in the Humanities right now, and is especially so in the Digital Humanities. I have heard that Xml was originally designed to mark-up legal documents, and so I am hoping you are already somewhat familiar with it. If not, it does not have to be an issue, though I will explain what I mean by that in a bit.

    As a primer though, if you aren’t entirely familiar: The basic idea is you start off with some text of interest. You then codify or “mark-up” that text with additional text (and special symbols) to clarify and standardize points and scopes of navigational interest (the special symbols will keep one from becoming confused as to what is the original text and what is mark-up). Take the title of this blog for instance:

    “What is Chief Spence hiding? Not your logical fallacy!”

    Let us then say we are interested in clearly codifying some of the semantic content of this very clever title. I might choose to mark-up your title in the following way:

    What is Chief Spence hiding?
    Not your logical fallacy!

    What I am saying here is that I have chosen to classify this title as a “joke” of a “complex” “type” (it works on several levels). I further extend my classification by interpreting a simple “question”-“punchline” paradigm as the joke’s structure.

    I will also mention a bit of terminology: the content inside the “” symbols are called “tags” (); their properties inside the “” brackets are “attributes” (type=”complex”); and the … structure indicates scope; this last part meaning the and content are elements of the environment.

    Before we get to the actual map, I still have some background:

    Why bother using something like Xml to begin with? As long as one keeps their mark-up consistent, the standardization allows one to navigate the given text using new and powerful vehicles, namely that of the tools provided by computers. At the very least the basic hyperlink is such a tool and as you may notice is very useful (the internet comes to mind).

    Another reason to use Xml is it’s pretty well an international standard. As well, once in a standard form it is easy for computing people like me to translate it into other desirable forms. For example, as far as mark-up languages go, the opinion is that Xml is quite readable, but if you find it still isn’t (after taking a look), then I am more than happy to translate it into a .html format or frankly anything else that would allow this map to be accessible to you and others.

    Beyond this, there is another aspect of background worth bringing up. Although this is known by many, the Digital Humanists especially like to bring up the fact that the task of classifying as well as finding a common consensus on how to classify is an extremely problematic thing to do; it is very much subjective and everyone has their own way to interpret, it seems.

    With this is mind, I at first did not feel entirely comfortable introducing this to you (and ideally a broader public). Given that this classification of these responses is entirely dependent on my very subjective interpretation, who am I to introduce it at all? By presenting this mark-up here, I am in no way saying I am the authority on how these responses are to be organized (if at all). I personally believe there is in fact more than one equally good way.

    At the other extreme (of my discomfort)—given I am happy to acknowledge I am no authority—I questioned how such a subjective cataloging would be of any use to anyone at all (with the exception of myself of course). When you look at the categories, you will come to realize there appears to be much overlap, and there is. The reality is the dialogue and questions people are asking about Native issues, as I’m certain you know, are very much all related. I did my best to keep things somewhat balanced, but judgement calls had to be made all over the place.

    As problematic as this might be, I realized though that I was thinking about it all wrong:

    This is why I think calling it a “map” is a good idea. I realized maps—although taken for granted—are not at all straightforward. A geographical map has certain features built into it to maintain a level of objectivity: it’s design is built on top of the framework of another and ideally consistent system (often enough, that of the cartesian plane), and so its accuracy may be measured in reference to that system, but beyond this, it is very subjective. A map only works by leaving things out; who gets to determine what is left out?

    The map I am to present behaves in the similar ways. I am using Xml as a frame of reference; it allows for a measurement of accuracy, and is subjective based on what I leave out; the tags I use for my points of navigational reference are very subjective, and by analogy, so are the descriptors within a geographical map (what population determines a city? and why?)

    Finally then, this narrative I am claiming, is best measured as accurate based mostly on whether this cataloging is considered useful. This is true of geographical maps, and sometimes they go through several revisions before they are able to “synchronize” happily with the body of people who use them (a sort of objective-subjectivity).

    With this said, I have copied and pasted my Xml map here. I have postponed this to the very end on account of its size. if you would like an .html version of it or some advice on an Xml Editor (which makes it more readable) please email me; I assume you have my email, and if not just let me know and I will be happy to share.

    Lastly, I do not claim it is 100% error free. It is not meant to be exhaustive either, and although I think some dialogue is a good thing on how it can be improved, I think it takes away from the purpose if too much time is spent on that endeavour. I will say this though: It has taken me a week to read through, process and compile. I have verified it is well-formed, but beyond that I think I need to get it out into the public.

    The entire purpose of this map is to give Canadians an idea of what kind of questions and dialogue people are looking for regarding Native issues. I hope you and others will find it, or a refined version of it, useful in the future.

    Daniel Nikpayuk

    P.S. I recommend copying and pasting this to a .txt file, then to “Save As” “Attawapiskat.xml” in “UTF-8” format so as to view from your web browser.


  32. Nikpayuk says:

    Oh, it’s strange, the xml mark-up example and the copy and paste does not seem to show up. Please email me so I can send you a copy.

  33. Nikpayuk says:

    All that build-up and nothing to show for it. Kinda anti-climactic wouldn’t you say? 😛

  34. Pingback: “We have a different understanding” | David McLaren

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