01/25/2012 01:02 EST | Updated 03/26/2012 05:12 EDT

Attawapiskat chief wants 'plan for investment'

Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence says her First Nations community wants help to move its people forward, but isn't looking for charity or to be taken over by the federal government.

"We're not asking for a handout, but a plan for investment," Spence told a luncheon audience at the Economic Club of Canada in Ottawa Wednesday.

The Attawapiskat chief made headlines last fall after she declared a state of emergency over her community's housing crisis.

The crisis was hotly debated in the House of Commons question period for weeks as opposition MPs accused the government of ignoring conditions on reserves such as Attawapiskat. But Spence said Wednesday she was surprised by the attention.

"It was not my intention to cause embarrassment for Canada, or for the politicians of any party," she said.

Spence and other representatives from the remote Ontario reserve have sparred publicly with Ottawa over the federal government's decision to impose a third-party manager to handle federal funds for the community.

Spence has said that she is grateful for the emergency assistance provided to her community, but is opposed to federal government interference, and wrote an open letter in December outlining six reasons why she opposed third-party management.

Officials in Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Duncan's office have stated that the government's emergency relief is already being carried out by the third-party manager using federal funds.

But Spence said Wednesday the funding her community receives is not enough.

A funding 'base from which to build'

"Funding levels are such that do not allow us to establish responsible government ... let alone build infrastructure," she said. She said that 60 per cent of the people in her community are receiving social assistance, and there is a very great need for adequate housing, education and job creation.

"We want a base from which to build and move our people forward," she said. "We are unable to achieve that with the resources we receive from Aboriginal Affairs."

Spence said Aboriginal Affairs is taking away her community's ability to manage its own affairs. She said she believes imposing third-party management is intended to "silence" and to "serve as a warning to other First Nations."

Spence also said that she is not satisfied with the government's actions and that Harper needs to repeal the Indian Act.

She said that until the government begins to offer the investment her community needs, they will continue to struggle.

"My greatest fear is that nothing will happen to this end," she said.