Attawapiskat: John Duncan, Aboriginal Affairs Minister, To Meet With Chief Theresa Spence

Theresa Spence

First Posted: 12/12/11 03:30 PM ET Updated: 12/15/11 11:33 AM ET

OTTAWA - Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Duncan says he's setting up a meeting with the chief of the troubled Attawapiskat First Nation in an attempt to resolve the impasse that has raised tempers on the remote reserve.

Chief Theresa Spence fired off a second, sharply-worded letter to the minister on the weekend, accusing Duncan of being misinformed about her willingness to co-operate with a third-party manager.

But she said she also wanted to meet him face-to-face to come to a compromise.

The two met in Ottawa last week while Spence was in town for annual meetings of chiefs, but parted on shaky terms over Ottawa's insistence that all financial decisions be handed over to a third party.

Duncan's officials say they are now trying to arrange a time and place for a second meeting, although they would not say whether Duncan would be willing to travel to the northern Ontario community.

Duncan also says the third-party manager is already delivering fruitful results for the government — a claim that is likely to be a non-starter for the Cree band.

"This continued insistence of third party management is causing yet another crisis in our community," Spence writes in bold typeface in her weekend letter.

Ottawa and the band have agreed to what kind of emergency aid should be provided. They have also agreed to a full audit of the band's spending over the past five years.

But the federal government's decision to place the band's day-to-day finances under the control of an outside consultant continues to be a major roadblock to progress in Attawapiskat.

While the band has no choice in the matter, Duncan did not repeat the controversial statements on Monday that he said on Sunday — that the band leaders were ready to work with the appointee.

But Duncan did defend the appointment of Jacques Marion of BDO Canada's Winnipeg branch as productive.

"He is already getting results for the community with the purchase of 22 modular homes (using federal funds) to address the urgent housing needs," Duncan said in a statement released by his office.

"He will also ensure that programs and social services continue to be delivered to the community. Our government has acted in good faith and full transparency."

New Democrat MP Charlie Angus, whose riding includes Attawapiskat, said the minister is just spreading false information since the band itself had already made arrangements for new housing and emergency aid.

"The third-party manager is not co-ordinating relief. That is a fiction," Angus said in the House of Commons.

"It was the community that ordered the trailers; it was the community that asked for emergency measures, and it is the community that is not going to pay for this gold-plated emissary who is twisting his thumbs over in Winnipeg."

The appointee is getting about $1,300 a day, but he is not working on the reserve after band council members told him to leave upon his arrival last week.

Third-party management is being used to control finances in about 12 reserves across the country right now, according to the Aboriginal Affairs Department.

But a government evaluation of that type of intervention, as well as numerous reports from the auditor general, have shown the system to be inefficient and ineffective at solving basic problems that drive some reserves into crisis.

"Why did they ignore every single finding of the Auditor General of Canada with respect to management of these questions when it came to dealing with the crisis in Attawapiskat?" Liberal interim leader Bob Rae asked in the Commons.

The government has been revising the way it intervenes in the management of troubled bands' affairs, but in the case of Attawapiskat, quick action needed to be taken, said the minister's statement.

"This is an immediate measure taken to prioritize and take action to respond to the urgent needs of the community," the statement in response to questions reads.

"This is not a long term measure; our government strongly supports self-government for First Nations."

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Filed by Christian Cotroneo  |