The NDP member of parliament for Timmins-James Bay, Charlie Angus, has done Canadians a great service by bringing the plight of residents of Attawapiskat First Nation to their attention. Mr. Angus is the local MP for the Attawapiskat First Nation reserve and responded quickly by getting the word out about, and the spotlight on, Attawapiskat after that community declared a state of emergency earlier this fall.
For many (perhaps most) Canadians that was the first indication some of the 2,000 or so residents of that Northern Ontario community were living in such deplorable conditions. And we can all applaud the Canadian Red Cross for its prompt response to the crisis, and be grateful that our federal agencies too are getting directly involved.
I believe also that Prime Minister Harper himself is now on this file and will have a role to play in the long-term solutions that will presumably be found in the coming months.
There are, however, troubling aspects to this story that seem to have been ignored by Mr. Angus and the rest of the official opposition and, perhaps, even been somewhat distorted.
How, for instance, did Mr. Angus arrive at these figures he wrote about when he pointed out “that $50,000 per person [federal transfers] divided over six years, works out to about $8,300 per person per year”. The $50,000 seems to refer to the prime minister’s statement that we [federal government] have paid $50,000 to “every man, woman and child in the community.” Fair enough, but why divide the prime minister’s figure by 6 (years) to arrive at a misleading $8,300 per year for each individual?
Would it not have been more sensible to have used the community’s own figures contained in their audited annual financial statements? According to these, Attawapiskat First Nation had revenues for the year of $34.3-million and spent $31.1-million leaving a surplus as at March 31, 2011 (about nine months ago) of $3.1-million. Most of these revenues, I might add, came from the federal (50%) and provincial (13%) governments. There is not enough financial details in these statements for anyone to assess how well these revenues are being deployed on the reserve, but I believe it is safe to say that this is a lot of money for what amounts to a small town of about 2,000 residents.
These unfortunate people do need our help and will get it, but it is quite fair for Canadians to ask whether they are doing enough to help themselves—financially or otherwise, for far more troubling than the housing crisis, are the allegations by a former resident of Attawapiskat of substantial wrongdoings in the community, including child molestation, sexual abuse and incest as outlined to CTV.ca on Tuesday.
“The most frightening part is people know,” Jocelyn Iahtail told CTV’s Daniele Hamamdjian. According to CTVNews.ca, “Iahtail alleged the abuse began when she was only four, and continued until she was 13. She says the abusers were people that she trusted, including relatives of some council members.”
And this shocker from Ms. Iahtail, “I would become so overcome with nausea and vomiting. Just the simple act of brushing my teeth, because of the oral sex that I was forced to perform.”
Social worker Sylvia Maracle, from the Ontario Federation of Friendship Centres, is reported by CTV.ca to have said, “Sexual violence and sexual abuse in Aboriginal communities affect 75 to 80 per cent of our girls and women,”
The CTVNews.ca article concludes with this:
Shawn Atleo, national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, said that the abuse issue is one of the reasons why the entire system of reserves needs to be dismantled.
‘This is why First Nations are calling for transformative change—to smash the status quo,’ he responded.
According to [social worker Sylvia] Maracle, school officials have cautioned her about the issue, hinting that the abuse is so widespread that resources simply aren’t available to deal with all the cases.
These allegations are distressing in the extreme. Sounds to me like we have a far more serious set of social issues at Attawapiskat First Nation than a housing crisis.
I can hardly wait to hear how the NDP turns this into another political issue and blames the federal government for the apparently rampant sexual abuse and incest.
© 2011 Russell G. Campbell