By: Alexandra Savilo
Located in the Kenora district of Northern Ontario, the aboriginal reserve of Attawapiskat has received a great deal of press attention since 2011. For on October 28th of that year, the First Nations leadership declared a state of emergency in response to health and safety concerns that would result from dropping temperatures as winter was approaching and the reserve suffered from inadequate housing. Additionally, Attawapiskat residents also endured an evacuation during flood conditions in May 2009 as well as the closing of their sole elementary school due to toxic fumes that had seeped into the ground underneath the school from a 1978 diesel spill. Yet the main topic that was and is billeted in the Canadian media is the housing crisis in Attawapiskat. Of the hundreds of articles that have been written on the subject, many writers beg the question: why did this happen? While some potential theses have proposed underfunding, others posit mismanagement of funds. Yet, the common thread that connects most articles is a general lack of knowledge of how First Nations reserves operate in a budgetary way.
What this essay aims to espouse, therefore, is an in-depth analysis of the housing crisis. Beginning with an examination of important government treaties and legislation, this essay will determine how much power rests within the government of Canada at either the federal or provincial level vis-à-vis how much power the Attawapiskat First Nations leadership has over its own territory. Afterwards, the essay will investigate the audit made by Deloitte for Attawapiskat in 2012 and determine its findings to understand how much onus was put onto the First Nations leadership, third party management and/or co-management. Finally, this essay will examine the media’s reaction to the housing crisis and audit to determine how founded the above theses are and how the media propels the crisis in Attawapiskat. After developing thoroughly the above arguments, the essay aims to conclude that Attawapiskat is located in a catch-22. While it is currently inconclusive to fully convict the First Nations band of mismanagement, it is equally as inconclusive to accuse the government of Canada of underfunding due to an inordinate lack of documentation that will likely remain hidden with reason.