Attawapiskat chief blasts minister in open letter

Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence maintains she has not agreed to third-party management, despite a line in a statement issued by the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development John Duncan, pointing to the contrary.

Denies accepting 3rd-party management offer

Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence maintains she has not agreed to third-party management, despite a line in a statement issued by the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development John Duncan on Sunday, pointing to the contrary.

In an open letter issued Sunday evening, Spence blasted Duncan for insisting she accepted a third-party manager.

"Frame it however you see fit, but not as third-party management," Spence wrote.

Earlier in the day, Duncan's office issued a statement saying: "I am pleased that Chief Spence has acknowledged the necessity of working with our government, the third-party management team, and Emergency Management Ontario to get help to the residents of Attawapiskat."

But speaking from Attawapiskat, Spence told CBC News that Duncan's office called her Sunday morning to give her an update, which included the government's purchase of seven additional modular units for the community.

During that call, Spence said she "made it clear: I'm not going to allow third-party management in my office."

In an email to CBC News, officials in Duncan's office pointed out that "all of theses actions" — from purchasing emergency supplies and the 22 modular homes, to sending technical support to retrofit the Healing Lodge — are actions "already being carried out by the third party manager using federal funds."

Outlines 6 reasons to resist 3rd-party management

Spence said in her open letter that she is thankful for the emergency assistance providing "renovations, trailers, and expertise," but she laid out six reasons why she continues to reject the idea of Ottawa imposing a third-party manager on her community:

  • "I don't want an interruption to this fiscal year’s cash flow April 1, 2011, to March 31, 2012."
  • "Interruption of cash flow would seriously hinder the debt management plan we have in place."
  • "Interruption of cash flow would prevent us from issuing Social Assistance payments, our members would not be able to purchase goods for Christmas holidays."
  • "Your office has not established a date to meet to discuss these very concerns."
  • "Email from the third-party manager is requesting financial information and data on employees which suggests that he will manage our finances, payroll, etc. off reserve and not on site."
  • "Current capital project funding for Attawapiskat projects is being managed and accounted for by BDO in Thunder Bay. The funding for the trailers, renovations could also be managed under this current arrangement."

Spence said Duncan has her "full co-operation" and reiterated her desire to meet with Duncan in order to "arrive at a compromise."

But she added in her letter, "This continued insistence of third-party management is causing yet another crisis in our community."

After Spence released her statement, NDP MP Charlie Angus told CBC News, "Once again we see John Duncan is misrepresenting the facts and covering his tracks."

Finding a resolution to what Angus called "a tragic tale" would not be possible "until Mr. Duncan fesses up and shows a willingness to work with the people of Attawapiskat," the New Democrat said in a written statement to CBC News.

Spence told CBC News earlier Sunday that although she can travel to Ottawa to meet with Duncan, she hoped Duncan would afford her "the courtesy" of meeting with her in Attawapiskat, something he has yet to do.

Canadians donate over $300,000 to Attawapiskat

The federal government, with the approval of Spence, had asked the Canadian Red Cross "to assist the community of Attawapiskat with their efforts to retrofit the Healing Lodge," said John Saunders, the provincial director of disaster management at the Canadian Red Cross.

Saunders will be leaving for Attawapiskat Sunday evening, with two technical experts following him on Monday. One is an expert in water and sanitation; the other is an expert in heating systems.

The idea is to see whether the Canadian Red Cross can help the community retrofit the Healing Lodge "as a mid-term solution" until the 22 modular units arrive once the winter roads open up, Saunders said.

The Canadian Red Cross also confirms it has raised over $300,000 thanks to the generous response of Canadians to the crisis in Attawapiskat.

The money collected will be used to purchase "immediate, short-term needs like winter clothes, sleeping bags, heaters and generators, for the 25 families living in temporary shelters," Saunders said.

The Canadian Red Cross fund for Attawapiskat closed on Dec. 9.

Managing the crisis

Questions about Duncan's personal health getting in the way of his handling of the crisis in Attawapiskat surfaced in the media Friday.

When asked about it Sunday, officials in Duncan's office told CBC News: "The minister has been working around the clock and he is strongly committed to addressing the urgent health and safety needs of the people of Attawapiskat."