Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence
Credits: ANDRE FORGET/QMI AGENCY
OTTAWA - The chief of the Attawapiskat First Nation is threatening to call a state of emergency again at her reserve unless the federal government coughs up $50,000 a month with no strings attached for the band to use for housing.
Chief Theresa Spence has told federal government officials some trailers on her Northern Ontario that house about 90 people are no longer suitable and she wants to move the people into the community's healing lodge.
The trailers are not the ones shipped to the reserve this spring but were brought to the community in 2009 by the mining company DeBeers.
This week, a teleconference meeting between band officials and federal bureaucrats was convened to discuss a range of housing issues. During that meeting, Spence was asked if she had prepared a housing plan for her community, something the government has been pushing the community to do for several months.
But when pressed about a housing plan, Spence simply hung up the phone.
The incident has raised new concerns in Ottawa about Spence's leadership.
"It appears the band management is again failing residents," said Jason MacDonald, a spokesman for Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Duncan. "The band management has a direct responsibility to provide residents with competent fiscal management and housing. The band management does not have a housing strategy despite several attempts by the government to co-operate on a plan."
Spence's leadership has also sparked concerns in her own community.
A group of Attawapiskat elders sent a letter to Duncan's office last December complaining about the band council and urging the federal government to do a full audit of the band's finances.
Attawapiskat has received $90 million from the federal government since 2006.
In the memo, obtained by QMI Agency through access to information laws, the elders said band members "support a forensic audit as they want to know where the funds were spent."
The federal government has spent $3 million since November providing emergency shelter for band members who were living in housing with no heat or running water.
Earlier this year, Spence asked the federal government to repair and modify the DeBeers trailers and, on Feb. 15, she indicated in writing those trailers had been fixed.
Now, though, she appears to have changed her mind.