December 06, 2011

Blaming the victim at Attawapiskat

Here's a commentary on the responses to the the Attawapiskat housing crisis. As I said, the crisis itself isn't a pop-culture issue, but the responses to it may be.

Don't blame bands for reserve housing woes

By Doug CuthandOttawa's reaction--and that of Prime Minister Stephen Harper in particular--has been appalling.

Rather than face the issue and try to find some kind of resolution, the prime minister complained that about $90 million has been spent by his government in the past six years and he sees little to show for it. Then the colonial office walks in and places the First Nations government under thirdparty management, which is a form of receivership.

It's easy to play blame-the-victim if people don't examine the facts. The $90 million spent over last six years constitutes the band's federal transfer payments. These cover costs for education and community and social development, and are accounted for in the band audits posted on its website since 2005.

It amounts to an average $15 million a year. This is comparable to other reserve communities of a similar size. The funds are closely regulated and can only be spent in certain ways.

The latest audited statement available on the Indian Affairs website is for the 2010-11 fiscal year. That year, the federal expenditures were $15,946,810 and included $403,986 available from the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. for housing.

According to Statistics Canada, in 2001, the First Nation had a population of 1,290. The annual expenditures for the band were $15,861,724, and $159,748 was available for housing.

In the past decade, the population has grown to about 1,800, a 40 per cent increase. When such paltry amounts are put toward housing, it is no wonder that houses have become overcrowded and run down. If the overall federal contribution had kept pace with the population growth, it should be in excess of $22 million this year.

Attawapiskat is an isolated, fly-in community. The only way to transport building materials is by expensive air freight or a few months by winter road. This makes everything, including food, gasoline and basic transportation, more expensive. A standard two-or three-bedroom house will cost between $200,000 and $250,000.
Comment:  So the $403,986 allocated for housing in 2010-2011 could buy one or two houses. Meanwhile, the population has grown from about 1,300 to 1,800 in ten years, or 50 people a year. Fifty new people a year in 1-2 new houses...sounds like overcrowding to me.

In short, the conservative "blame the victim" response to poverty is wrong again. Give the tribe enough money to build the 10 or 20 houses needed each year, then tell us whether they're dumb savages or not.

For more on the subject, see Home Renovator Tackles Housing Crisis.


Anonymous said...


"The government didn't give me enough money. I'm a victim!"


dmarks said...

Anon said: "This is comparable to other reserve communities of a similar size"

If it is the case as with many US reservations, it is not a matter of the government not 'giving' enough money. It is often the matter of the government taking land, and promising money in return for it. And then not paying it. So the money in question might well be owed to them.

KdPurdy said...

This corresponds with my reaction to the Canadian Government. Thanks for writing!

Anonymous said...

Well dmarks, that would certainly be a different situation. Unfortunately, that is not at all how the above story is presented. There is no mention of a treaty or previously agreed to obligations. I do acknowledge that that could just be cruddy reporting.