Her drive to provide housing for her community and her stance against third-party management has made Theresa Spence the second female newsmaker of the year.
Spence’s first year as chief of Attawapiskat was relatively quiet until she declared a state of emergency in late-October due to a housing crisis. Five families, including Elders and children, living in tent frame shelters and sheds were expected to endure the harsh Canadian winter without proper housing.
The crisis drew national media attention, putting Spence front and centre of an issue that had many Canadians wondering why there were people living in third-world conditions within their own country.
Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Minister John Duncan’s decision to put the community under third-party management drew more controversy and debate, as some questioned the accountability of the band council and its management of funds.
Spence strongly opposed third-party management from the start.
“It is incredible that the Harper government’s decision is that instead of offering aide and assistance to Canada’s First People, their solution is to blame the victim, and that the community is guilty and deserving of their fate,” she said on Dec. 1.
With her accountability questioned even by her own community members, Spence continues to defend herself by pointing out that the band’s financial statements has been posted online since 2005 and has expressed a willingness to undergo an audit.
After meeting with Duncan on Dec. 15, Spence filed a court injunction against Aboriginal Affairs for its decision to put her community under third party management despite a promise the imposed intervention would be lifted once the housing crisis is over.
With court dates to follow, an audit to be ordered by Duncan, and the construction of a new school for Attawapiskat set to begin in the spring, it’s likely Spence will continue to make headlines in her second year as chief of her community.
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