The timing is interesting, to say the least: the leak of an audit detailing the erratic spending on the Attawapiskat reserve in northern Ontario. With the community’s chief, Theresa Spence, on a hunger strike and determined to meet government officials about aboriginal issues, “optics” as they love to say in political speak become valuable playing cards.
This latest bombshell comes after weeks of activism by native bands across the country – including protest blockades in Nova Scotia – dubbed Idle No More and aimed at bringing attention to treaty matters.
Canadians had heard before of the federal money spent in Attawapiskat. But the leaked numbers from the Deloitte audit – subsequently released by the Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development – showed more than $109 million in spending over almost seven years, much of it poorly documented, undocumented, or questionable.
Spence has been demanding to meet Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the Governor General over rights and items in the latest omnibus bill. Harper has agreed to the meeting, coming later this week. But could he walk into a session where the other person potentially has the upper hand with martyr status?
Aboriginals have many concerns: among them, items in the omnibus bill they feel threaten waterways and other features of the environment.
And what of the gargantuan issue of treaty rights, in a country the size of Canada? Presumably that would entail land settlements, along with access to natural resources and the opportunity for economic development. That in itself is complex, since some bands sit on extremely bountiful lands – and others don’t.
Solving such matters will be a mammoth exercise.
This is a huge issue that has been left to fester for the past century and more. There will be no easy way to find a straight path and help make reserves self-sufficient. And unfortunately two sides trying to outdo each other in the publicity spotlight won’t help start honest dialogue.