NEWS

Attawapiskat Ruling Bolsters Case For First Nations Self-Governance: Lawyer

08/02/2012 08:56 EDT | Updated 10/02/2012 05:12 EDT
A federal court says mishandling of money by the Attawapiskat First Nation did not lead to the housing crisis in the James Bay community. The court ruling released yesterday says the federal government was unreasonable when it gave control of band finances to a third-party manager last year.

But exactly what the decision will mean for First Nations people, in the North and across Canada, depends on who you ask.

Aboriginal rights lawyer Max Faille said he thinks yesterday's court ruling could have far reaching implications.

He said this is the latest sign that First Nations are breaking free of their dependence on the federal government.

"[It’s] a very clear message that reinforces the importance of First Nations self-government and accountability to their own members, rather than to bureaucrats in Ottawa,” he said.

The court found there was no evidence that financial mismanagement led to the housing crisis in Attawapiskat, so there was no reason to send in an outside manager.

Worries about corruption

But at the time, some in the James Bay community were worried about how the band was handling its money and supported the third-party manager.

Leona Freed, founder of the First Nations Accountability Coalition, based in Manitoba, said she fears the court ruling will mean fewer third-party managers sent in to clean up corrupt band offices.

"It's just another way of putting the ordinary First Nations band member under the thumb of chief and council again,” Freed said.

However, Faille said the ruling won't prevent the government from using third-party managers in the future.

"This was not an appropriate response to what was happening at Attawapiskat,” Faille remarked. “The appointment of a third-party manager was not going to solve the housing crisis."

The federal government says it is disappointed in the court's decision and is reviewing it. Meanwhile, the federal government says it is reviewing the court decision. It has 30 days to appeal.

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