APTN National News
OTTAWA–Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence says the outside consultant appointed by Aboriginal Affairs to take over the band’s finances has been kicked out of the community and won’t be allowed back in.
Spence, who is currently in Ottawa, met with Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Duncan in his Parliament Hill precinct office for about an hour late Monday afternoon.
Spence said she told Duncan the community planned to fight his decision to put a third-party manager in charge of the band’s finances.
“I told him I don’t want to see a third-party on my reserve,” said Spence. “He is not coming to the community. He did this morning, we sent him out of there.”
Attawapiskat, a community of around 2,000 people, sits on the James Bay coast in northern Ontario.
Duncan’s office issued a statement confirming the third-party manager had been asked to leave.
“It is extremely worrying that the chief and council are not open to outside assistance,” said the statement. “Our government’s priority is to ensure that residents of Attawapiskat have access to safe, warm and dry shelter. The minister stressed that all parties should put the needs of the people first.”
Duncan imposed the third-party manager on the community last week as his government faced increased political fallout over the persistent, slum-like conditions in Attawapiskat where families live in tents and in shacks with no running water or insulation.
Jacques Marion, of BDO Canada LLP, was appointed to run the band’s finances. Duncan said in the statement that, “Marion wished to respect the volatile situation and is currently not in the community.”
The statement said that Marion, however, is “in full control of funding from Aboriginal Affairs.”
The Ontario government is also in the community and is involved in setting up temporary shelter in the community’s healing centre and arena.
Duncan has, so far, refused to travel to the community, but did arrange a meeting with Spence Monday in Ottawa. The chief is in the capital city this week for the Assembly of First Nations special chiefs assembly where she is expected to speak.
Spence said she found her meeting with Duncan “frustrating.”
“It was really frustrating,” said Spence. “The first thing he said is that the third party (manager) is going in no matter what. He said ‘we need to control the situation.’”
Spence said she told Duncan her band planned to challenge his decision to appoint the third-party manager in court.
“I told him we are going to challenge it,” she said. “He didn’t say much. He said the third party is still on and it is effective immediately.”
Spence said the third-party manager will have to work from an outside office because he is not allowed to set foot on the reserve.
“It will be six months before he can even understand the financial situation,” she said. “He doesn’t even have a connection to the community.”
Spence said she tried to tell Duncan that her community had been trying to improve things. It is one of the few First Nations to post their financial information on-line, including the chief and band councillor salaries.
“I told him that as we speak the people are in crisis right now, they need to have action in place and work together and this is why we declared an emergency,” said Spence. “We are accountable. We also advised him that we had been working hard to improve our financials.”
Spence also met with Assembly of First Nations National Chief Shawn Atleo and she said he was “very supportive.”