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Attawapiskat welcomes withdrawal of third-party manager

The Attawapiskat First Nation has welcomed the withdrawal of the third-party manager imposed by Ottawa last fall. But it doesn't agree with Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Duncan about the manager's effectiveness.

In an April 5 news release, Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada quoted Duncan:

"In recognition of the accomplishments that have been achieved in substantially addressing the urgent health and safety needs of affected Attawapiskat residents through the third-party manager, we have notified the Attawapiskat First Nation of the Department's intent to move the First Nation out of third-party funding agreement management and back to co-management.

"The Third Party Manager was put in place to support measures to address the urgent health and safety needs and to ensure that affected families have access to safe and warm shelter.

"The completion of the installation of 22 modular homes and renovation work on three existing homes will allow for the 25 affected families to move in by the end of this month. The efforts to achieve this milestone have been significant, and I would like to thank the Third Party Manager for his hard and diligent work.

"I am very pleased by our collective accomplishments and look forward to further progress working with the people of ttawapiskat."

On April 6, Attawapiskat issued its own news release, quoting Chief Theresa Spence:

"My Council is very pleased that it will once again be able to ensure that what funding is provided by Canada is administered in a way that benefits the First Nation and its members. We have instructed our administrators and co-manager to work to ensure an orderly and timely transition."

The release went on:

Contrary to recent public statements by the Minister and Departmental officials, the Third Party Manager's decisions since his appointment have caused repeated disruptions and hardships to the orderly functioning of basic community services. Earlier on April 5, 2012, press outlets first reported on the Third Party Manager’s failure to ensure the payment of post-secondary student allowances for April, during the intensive examination period. According to press reports, students attempting to reach Mr. Marion for information were told that he was vacationing in Hawaii and could not be reached.

The release criticized the third-party manager's "failure to pay post-secondary allowances to students at a critical time in their studies was simply the latest in a series of failures by the Third Party Manager to administer the First Nation’s funding responsibly." It went on to other problems:

•Vendors and suppliers' invoices have been left unpaid, including the vendor supplying food for the elementary school's breakfast program.

•Band support funding was not paid to Attawapiskat after December 1, 2011, forcing the community to divert resources from other program areas in order to continue to operate.

•Because of the Third Party Manager's refusal to authorize the making of loan payments to the Bank of Montreal, the First Nation was placed on the brink of defaulting on a loan to be repaid from its Minor Capital Funding allowance, through no fault of its own.

While refusing to authorize these critical expenditures, the Third Party Manager has continued to incur fees of $1,300 per day, charged to the First Nation against its will.

The release concluded: "In the meantime, Attawapiskat’s court proceedings remain in progress. The proceedings seek a declaration that the decision to impose the Third-Party Manager was unlawful, and seek to refute the suggestion by the Prime Minister of Canada that 'management problems' caused the housing crisis suffered by the First Nation. The court application is set to be heard on April 24, 2012, at the Federal Court, 180 Queen Street West, in Toronto."

Crawford Kilian is a contributing editor of The Tyee.

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