According to the Harper government, the reason there is a housing crisis at Attawapiskat First Nation is that the Attawapiskat leadership has mismanaged taxpayers’ money.
As Prime Minister Harper put it, “This government has spent some $90 million since coming to office just on Attawapiskat. That is over $50,000 for every man, woman, and child in the community.”
As Mr. Harper is sure to know, the figures he cites are misleading. Nor will finger-pointing solve the Attawapiskat housing crisis. Winter has set in and families are still living in flimsy tents and plywood sheds with no electricity or running water.
So what are the facts about federal funding to Attawapiskat? More importantly, what is the solution to Attawapiskat’s housing crisis?
ATTAWAPISKAT: 10 KEY FACTS & FIGURES
1. The $90 million Prime Minister Harper keeps citing is the amount of federal funding Attawapiskat received since the Harper government came into power in February 2006. $90 million over 6 years works out to $15 million per year. Much of it is used to cover services, such as water, waste removal, education, and health, provided by municipal and provincial governments in non-reserve communities.
2. $50,000 per person over 6 years works out to about $8,300 per person per year, less than 50% of what is spent on non-Aboriginal people.
3. In 2010–2011, Attawapiskat received $17.6 million in federal funds. Of that $17.6 million, only $2.03 million was allocated to housing.
4. Attawapiskat publishes its financial statements going back to 2005. If you want to know where the money was spent, go to the Attawapiskat First Nation website and click on “financial statements.”
5. According to Grand Chief Stan Louttit of the Mushkegowuk Council, a new house in Attawapiskat costs $250,000 to build (with half of the amount going to transportation costs).Thus $2,031,007 is sufficient to build 8 new homes. Funds allocated to housing are also used to maintain and repair existing homes.
6. Since 2006, Attawapiskat has received a total of $4.3 (not $90) million from the federal government for housing.
7. Attawapiskat has a population of about 2,000. As of November 21:
5 families were living in tents.
19 families were living in sheds without running water.
35 families were living in houses needing serious repair.
90 people were living in construction trailers.
118 families were living with relatives (often 20 people to a house).
128 families were living in houses condemned from black mould.
8. Attawapiskat needs 268 houses just to deal with the immediate backlog of homelessness.
9. Much of Attawapiskat’s federal funding is allocated to education. Of the $17.6 million Attawapiskat received in 2010–2011, $7.1 million (or 40.3%) went to education. Many of Attawapiskat’s children are sent off-reserve to attend school. In 2000, the community’s elementary school was shut down because of contamination from an oil spill. The Minister of Indian Affairs promised the community a new school. 12 years later, there is still no new school.
10. Attawapiskat has been under co-management with the Department of Aboriginal Affairs since 2001. If funds have been mismanaged, it will have been under the watch of the federal government.
- According to the National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations Shawn Atleo, out of the 634 First Nations communities in Canada, 100 or more are living in conditions similar to those in Attawapiskat.
- As far back as 2003, Auditor General Sheila Fraser warned that “Many First Nations are facing a housing crisis. Unless action is taken quickly, the already unacceptable housing conditions are only going to get worse, with population growth on reserves.”
- Saskatchewan has a total of 14,180 on-reserve housing units. 1,875 are in need of major renovations; 230 require replacement; 14,000 new units are needed to deal with overcrowding.
On-reserve housing is a Treaty right. The right to housing is also enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which Canada signed in 1948, and in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, signed into law in 1982. On-reserve housing has been chronically underfunded since at least the 1950s.
Much of Canada’s wealth comes from the exploitation of natural resources: forests, minerals, metals, and energy. Many of these resources are on First Nations traditional land. However, all the resource royalties go to the provinces and employment opportunities for First Nations tend to be minimal.
For example, a DeBeers diamond mine is located just upstream from Attawapiskat. But the people of Attawapiskat benefit very little from it. All the resource royalties go to the Province of Ontario; and although some Attawapiskat residents have found work at the mine, they have not received training to do the specialized jobs that pay high wages.
As part of its blame the victim strategy, the Harper government has placed Attawapiskat under third party management. The manager appointed to oversee the band’s finances will receive a salary of $1,300 per day. The salary will be drawn from the funds of the already impoverished Attawapiskat community.
- Let Prime Minister Stephen Harper know you want the federal government to deal with the housing crisis in Attawapiskat and many other First Nations communities by providing adequate funding for housing: firstname.lastname@example.org or 613-992-4211.
- Send the same message to Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Duncan: email@example.com or 613-992-2503.
- Let Premier Brad Wall know you want the province’s wealth to be shared with First Nations and Métis people: firstname.lastname@example.org or 787-9433.
- Sign two online petitions:
Care2 Petition: http://www.thepetitionsite.com/5/demand-action-for-the-attawapiskat-first-nation/
SOURCES AND RESOURCES