The Oddness: The Funding Furor of Attawapiskat

Image from Attawapiskat First Nation Homepage

First some background information:

Attawapiskat is a Native Canadian reserve located in northern Ontario on the shore of James Bay. It is a community of 1,500 people, ¾ of which are under the age of 35. It has been under co-management with the Canadian Government since 2002. The situation on the reserve attracted popular attention in 2011 when Chief Teresa Spence declared a state of emergency about the state of the housing available on the reserve.

A report has recently been made available to the press from the accounting firm Deloitte that shows the reserve received $90 million in federal funding between 2005 and 2011. The report also details how approximately 80% of the expenditures were processed without adequate controls. This report landed with a bang and has been taken up as exhibit 1 by the people who view Native people as shiftless and corrupt. A scandal they say, and one that proves the Indians can’t manage their own affairs. They got all that money and wasted it and then dared to turn around and cry for more because their houses were falling over. Better to give that money to a responsible Anglo community and see it put to proper use.

That is the narrative being proposed, at least. Frankly, I think people are outraged over the wrong thing. Yes, public spending in the reserve needs better oversight, but it is the amount of money that should be raising eyebrows. The 90 million dollars translates to 10,000 dollars per person per year on the reserve. The band council needs to provide housing, infrastructure, utilities, healthcare, and education as well as other government services in a remote geographic location. To provide some context: a resident of southern Ontario gets $1406 for municipal service and infrastructure. The Peel district school board spent approximately $1300 per Brampton resident on education in 2012-2013. The government of Ontario spends $1250 per person in health insurance. A resident of Brampton receives about $4000 of government services not accounting for housing or utilities. So a resident of a large well-connected area gets $4,000 a year in government investment and the residents of a remote reserve get $10,000 per year in government investment. That sounds like a big difference in funding but the reserve number has to include housing costs and the fact that the cost of living in northern Ontario is substantially higher ($20 for a watermelon for example).

What it boils down to is that for every dollar given by the Canadian government to Attawapiskat, a citizen in Peel Region receives 40 cents. Given the depressed conditions on the reserves it seems that we as a nation need to do better in supporting our treaty partners.

Comments and discussion encouraged.  What do you think about the issue?


Ontario Ministry of Health Budget: Click Here

CBC news report on Deloitte audit findings: Click Here

Deloitte Audit Management Letter: Click Here

Native Reserve responsibilities: Click Here

Brampton Budget: Click Here

Peel District School Board Budget: Click Here


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