Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Attawapiskat chief OKs audit, seeks more housing

Won't agree to third-party manager

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OTTAWA -- The troubled First Nations community of Attawapiskat says it has major problems with the federal government's offer of evacuation and 15 new modular homes and has made a counter-proposal.

In a letter to the minister of aboriginal affairs, Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence says the 15 homes offered are not enough -- her community needs 22.

Spence is demanding that Minister John Duncan rescind his decision to place her reserve under third-party management, which removes the band's power over finances and usually indicates deep financial problems.

She says there is no way her band will pay the government-appointed manager, who is to be get about $1,300 a day from the band's administration budget.

"My community will not consider third-party managers nor pay for them out of our already depressed band-support funding budget," Spence wrote.

Instead, the government should stick to its plan to have an independent, comprehensive audit of the $90 million Ottawa has transferred to the band over the last five years, she suggests.

As for evacuating the 25 families deemed most poorly housed in the remote James Bay community, Spence says thanks but probably no thanks.

"I must consult with the families involved, however I think their preference has been to remain in the community."

The families will most likely choose a different option put forward by the government: to retrofit a nearby healing centre for temporary shelter.

Spence says the federal plan ignores about 90 people living in substandard conditions in a construction trailer.

Spence also lashes out at comments made in the House of Commons and the media about her band's ability to manage finances. This week, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said the band's money had been mismanaged.

The comments have led to a "misunderstanding" within her community, Spence said.

"For the record, our audits have been filed with your department for these years and on average, the per capita funding level ranges from $9,000 to $12,000 over this time frame and is not the $50,000 as reported by the prime minister," the letter states.

A spokeswoman for Duncan said he is reviewing the response and hopes they all will find a way to work together.

The government has already bought 15 modular homes. They will likely be delivered around the end of January when the winter road to the community is solid enough to handle heavy cargo.

Duncan's office said Ottawa is paying for the houses, but if the third-party manager finds extra money in the band's housing budget, that will go toward the homes, which will cost about $1.2 million, excluding transportation.

Spence raised the alarm over a shortage of adequate housing in Attawapiskat in October. The Red Cross has been flying in supplies for the last 10 days.

The agency stopped collecting donations for Attawapiskat as of Friday because it says it has enough money -- nearly $300,000 from donors in Canada -- to provide for immediate needs.

-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 10, 2011 A25

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