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Credit: Paul Lantz

Something Rotten in Attawapiskat

Over a month ago evidence of a crisis surfaced in t Attawapiskat, a Native reserve located at the mouth of the Attawapiskat River close to James Bay in Northern Ontario. Chief Theresa Spence, the leader of the community, declared a state of emergency based on the substandard living conditions in the reserve which include a lack of heating and other utilities as well as inadequate housing conditions. Subsequently, the Harper government dispatched a third party representative to the reserve in order to look into the problem.

The fact is that it almost immediately upon arrival, the representative,  Jacques Marion, was asked to leave the community; it would appear as if his help was not welcome. The leaders of Attawapiskat claim that the presence of a third party is an indication that the federal government is actually blaming the people of the reserve for the crisis, citing how it took well over a month for the federal government to do anything about the situation in addition to claiming how an investigation into the predicament only serves to offend them even further.

This accusation is both offensive and unfounded. The truth is that the federal government has given approximately $90 million to the Attawapiskat reserve since 2006. It is somewhat confusing to see the disgusting conditions in the native community despite this large donation. Where has all of this money gone? Why was the government’s representative dismissed from the scene before he could even begin his task? These are questions that need to be answered.

Nevertheless, the Harper government was cut short in its attempt to find answers to these questions. While there is no doubt that the emergency in Attawapiskat needs to be dealt with, there needs to be more transparency concerning where the funds have been going over the past five years. This needs to be done so that Parliament can implement a new policy that actually works. Even now reports are surfacing that there are dozens of other native reserves in Canada with similar deficiencies in their living conditions.

Whatever ends up happening in Attawapiskat will undoubtedly serve as an example for other native reserves in the future. As for the people living at the mouth of the Attawapiskat river, the outcome will be whatever they make of it.

–  Matthew Eidinger


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