Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION
Hold 'flood fakers,' leadership, to account
It's wrong but it's understandable.
That's what came to mind watching the latest coverage of the flood scandal on TV.
Manitoba's huge flood last spring displaced a lot of people, among them almost all of the residents of Lake St. Martin First Nation. The First Nations flood evacuees were put up in hotels in the city, and given emergency funding for basic needs like food.
Many of them are still holed up in hotels downtown -- all at the expense of Aboriginal Affairs.
The problem is about 170 people getting flood assistance don't even qualify as flood victims; so says the government.
Several chiefs were up in arms about this last week. They claim the feds are to blame for this mess.
Well, I'm not going to dive deeply into all the angles of this story. There are still a lot of unanswered questions. But saying you're a flood victim when you aren't one is wrong.
It's called fraud and it's a serious crime.
What gets me is these "flood fakers" might not even understand what they did was wrong.
But like I said, it's wrong but understandable how it could happen.
Let's say some reserve members already lived in the city when the flooding happened. They might have been staying in rundown housing, housing they couldn't afford or couch-surfing.
This is the reality for a lot of us.
So when those flood fakers saw their relatives from the rez get flooded out, put up in hotel rooms and given a per diem for food and clothing, they wanted in.
Let's face it -- many of those flood victims and those just along for the ride were living in poverty before the flood, so the assistance offered was a pretty good deal. It's a lot more money than they'd get on social assistance.
What is surprising is nobody seemed to be checking and verifying evacuee lists over the many months the bills and the list of names grew.
Something as simple as presenting a bill with a valid address -- as when you get a library card -- could have cut down on bogus claims.
The flood fakers ripping off the feds aren't the biggest problem here. The problem is the silence and lack of understanding that it was wrong in the first place.
Poverty often makes people accept the circumstances into which they are born without question. It's just the way it is, but it doesn't make it right.
This is why "fixing things" on reserves is so hard.
Things won't change unless people are given an opportunity to learn the right way to do things. And I'm not sure that opportunity happens on every reserve.
It makes it understandable why vote-buying allegations pop up once in a while, as well as allegations of nepotism and corruption.
The only thing left now is to look into all the allegations from this flood funding fiasco and find out the truth.
We've got some outstanding aboriginal communities, but we need to expect more from those who aren't doing their best for their people.
This flood scandal was a mistake on many levels, and we don't have all the answers yet. Mistakes happen in times of crisis, but now it's time to fix them and learn from them.
Mistakes are made all the time when it comes to bureaucratic spending. Just ask Bev Oda about her fancy hotel room and expensive orange juice.
All leadership needs to take responsibility for the matter when it comes to getting answers. We can't just point fingers and try to distract attention from the issue at hand. And if we played a role, we need to own up and take responsibility.
Colleen Simard is a Winnipeg writer.
Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 5, 2012 J6
(1 of 23 articles for this week)