Female Newsmaker of the year
Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence’s national spotlight for her fight to remove the third party manager assigned to her First Nation and her decision to go on a hunger strike last month makes her Wawatay’s female newsmaker of the year.
Following the housing crisis in her community at the end of last year, Spence continued to oppose the third party manager imposed upon the community by the federal government.
In January, after Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development of Canada (AANDC) Minister John Duncan accused Spence and the leadership of Attawapiskat of withholding information so that the third party manager could release funds for essential services, Spence issued a reply indicating that the manager’s fees were billed to the First Nation at a rate of $20,000 a month.
“Why should my First Nation be paying $1,300 a day for some firm to issue payroll cheques for my First Nation with our already limited Band Support Funding?” Spence asked in her letter to Duncan. “We do not need a high priced manager to issue cheques, because we are capable of issuing cheques and managing our business affairs.”
After a federal court declined to remove the third party manager on a temporary basis in February, Spence said the decision did not affect the First Nation’s overall legal challenge. She had filed a court injunction against AANDC in December.
In April, AANDC withdrew the manager after Duncan deemed the housing crisis to be “over” following the installment of 22 modular homes and the repairs of three homes in the community. But Spence said the First Nation would proceed with its court injunction, calling the decision to appoint the manger “unlawful.”
In August, the court agreed with Spence, calling the federal government’s decision “unreasonable in all circumstances.”
“I was really amazed and shocked at the same time,” Spence told Wawatay News about the court decision. “It was a good judgment from the courts for them to see that the government did wrongful things when we declared an emergency (last winter).”
But the next day, the First Nation received a letter from a letter from the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corp. (CMHC) saying it could not finance a proposed housing project to build 30 duplexes because Duncan refused to sign off on the agreement.
“I’m very disappointed because (Duncan) is already aware of our community with our housing crisis,” Spence said, adding that the government did not consult with the community before making the decision. “They’re enraged with us, I guess. And it shows that they’re not willing to work with us to improve the crisis in our community.”
In early December, Spence announced during the Assembly of First Nations Special Assembly that she would go on a hunger strike until Prime Minister Stephen Harper and a representative of the Queen agreed to meet with her and other First Nations leaders.
She said Harper failed to live up to his January promise to improve relations with First Nations, saying there is currently “no relationship.”
She began the hunger strike on Dec. 11 in Ottawa with the claims she is “willing to die” in the process. During her hunger strike, she stayed in a teepee on Victoria Island, just minutes away from Parliament Hill.
Her hunger strike coincided with a growing grassroots movement called Idle No More, where rallies were held in various cities and communities across the country, calling for the Harper government to consult First Nations in the numerous bills affecting treaty rights being pushed through legislation. Many participants at the rallies have expressed support for Spence, while some chiefs and community members have either fasted or went on a hunger strike of their own as a show of solidarity for Spence.
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