Alexander Davidoff ~ Chief Theresa Spence Feasts on Misconceptions
Democratic society accepts an individual’s right to protest and gather as a demonstration of combined voices against inequality or injustice. The goal of any demonstration is to achieve maximum public attention and in the end a negotiation to resolve the issues raised. We have witnessed public demonstrations explode into violence in Spain, Greece and even in Toronto achieving very little in the end. Yet the strength and courage of a national march against racism in the United States withstood everything to bring about change in society and its laws.
Regardless of the motivation of the individual or group no protest can achieve its intended goal without public attention. Media today has taken a commanding role in the success even failure of any protest. Wide public attention through television, newspapers and the internet can bring public support beyond normal physical boundaries. Sympathetic media has the power to manipulate the situation beyond fact or logic, attacking and labelling anyone who wishes to engage in dialogue that may disagree with any of the issues surrounding the protagonists.
Today Canada is face to face with a potentially growing movement called IDLE NO MORE. It is fuelled into emotional highs by a hunger strike protesting issues surrounding the people of the First Nations, Chief of the Attawapiskat First Nation. Theresa Spence has gained not only national attention but the world is looking on, reporting on a single individual who has decided to make a stand for what she believes.
That is the image projected to the world, and media is on a feeding frenzy reporting the struggles of the people of the Attawapiskat First Nation and Chief Theresa Spence. But there are serious questions that require examination, none of which had been answered by Chief Spence nor by the band council. Journalists who had presented articles which were not in support of Chief Spence or questioned the situation in Attawapiskat have faced attack and labelling as racist.
Senator Celine Hervieux-Payette presented a speech to fellow senators on World Press Freedom Day regarding the fundamental principles of journalism. These were her words:
“We know that journalists’ work must be based on the critical thinking that pushes them to question everything, the impartiality that pushes them to do their research and report on the various aspects of a situation, the independence that keeps them at arm’s length from power and lobby groups, the honesty that makes them stick to the facts, and a number of other principles.”
This hunger strike and in particular Chief Theresa Spence are not the equivalent of the Holy Grail untouchable and removed from consequence. It is clear that media has been used as a tool to catapult the chief to international recognition. Amnesty International has issued a statement, senators and elected representatives of government have come to seek audience.
Chief Spence had told the world that her hunger strike was intended to bring about public attention on the issues surrounding the people of the First Nations, support the IDLE NO MORE movement, and in particular the people of her Attawapiskat reserve. Spence has also raised issues with Bill C-45 claiming that it would remove many of the rights of the First Nations especially that of self governance and control of their land. In addition to issues of First Nation’s rights environmental questions surrounding the loss of protection over waterways had been widely raised by Chief Spence.
The media frenzy around Chief Theresa Spence would have the world see her as a champion of First Nations people particularly that of her own reserve of Attawapiskat. A willing martyr for her people and Mother Earth standing up against a non-caring federal government. But careful examination of the facts surrounding Spence and her Attawapiskat leaves serious questions demanding answers.
As Chief of Attawapiskat Theresa Spence oversees a $31.2 million annual operating budget with an on-reserve population of 1884. Her common-law husband Clayton Kennedy was hired by the band council as Deputy Chief to co-manage spending and monitor accounting procedures. According to official accounts he is paid $850 per day as Deputy Chief (Wikipedia – Theresa Spence).
Media has peppered its audience with images of deplorable conditions at Attawapiskat and Chief Spence has declared a third state of emergency in three years. A spokesperson for Aboriginal Affairs stated that by the end 2012-13 the federal government will have spent $131 million on Attawapiskat reserve since 2006. Detailed financial records never been made public, not to residents of Attawapiskat nor the media, though since Spence had chosen the glare of the public attention an audit has been ordered by the federal government.
A report in the Toronto Star by Raveena Aullakh published December 28th 2012 states, “There are houses on the reserve with 50 inch TVs, big computers, youngsters walk around with iPods. Shiny new trucks and snowmobiles whiz along the icy roads. Clearly, not everyone is poor. But where there is poverty, it is staggering.” The world at large has only been permitted to see the horrific images of those struggling on a daily basis. Visitors on site from Opposition political parties come away with more ammunition to launch attacks on the federal government. Amnesty International and even representatives of the United Nations witnessed the deplorable conditions. Yet one question begs to be heard, did these visitors witness everything on the reserve?
Canada’s federal government has poured tens of millions of dollars into Attawapiskat and little of this makes sense. One point raised constantly in response is the remoteness of the reserve and the extremely high cost of everything from building materials to school supplies. Still the less than 2000 residents of Attawapiskat do not only rely on the federal government for cash.
DeBeers Canada operates a diamond mine in the area, Canada’s first diamond mine, and Chief Theresa Spence has made it a point to let everyone know that the mine is situated on the band’s traditional lands. Chief Theresa Spence said, “While (Ottawa, the provincial government and DeBeers Canada) reap the riches, my people shiver in cold shacks – Precious diamonds from my land grace the fingers and necklaces of Hollywood celebrities.” (John Ivison, National Post December 6th 2011).
Spence portrays very well the victimized innocent people fed up with the powerful taking advantage of all that they can. Shawn Atleo, the Assembly of First Nations chief lauded Theresa Spence for her transparency and accountability. Yet Spence omitted a few small facts in her attack on DeBeers and the government.
As the Victor mine project was announced by DeBeers, the government provided $10 million for skills training and DeBeers added a further $1.8 million for facilities and equipment. Some 500 people were hired from the reserve at the construction stage yet only 100 people remain employed. DeBeers speculate that the Victor mine will have an expected 12 year life and have pledged $30 million to the community of Attawapiskat, with an initial signing bonus of $1 million and $2 million a year from its start in 2005. In addition to annual payments DeBeers has provided contracts to either solely owned or joint-owned companies (the joint owned companies are with the AFN) at Attawapiskat worth $325 million.
Chief Theresa Spence omitted the fact that the Attawapiskat people have a ‘rainy day’ account set up called the ‘Attawapiskat Trust‘ and its Financial Statements to year ending December 31st 2011 are truly an eye opener. Its ‘Statement of Financial Position’ on page 2 shows a healthy balance as of 2011 at $9,605,813 less liabilities of $742,849 leaving a net surplus of $8,862,964. As one strolls down through the pages special attention falls to pages 10 and 11, the ‘Schedule of Equity Securities and Foreign Securities’.
The IDLE NO MORE movement has its own website and proudly displays its mission statement which reads: “Idle No More calls on all people to join in a revolution which honours and fulfils Indigenous sovereignty which protects the land and water. Colonization continues through attacks to Indigenous rights and damage to the land and water. We must repair these violations, live the spirit and intent of the treaty relationship, work towards justice in action, and protect Mother Earth.”
Whether it is this mission statement by IDLE NO MORE or Chief Spence attacking the Harper government in relation to Bill C-45 and its potential environmental damage, the First Nations ideal of protecting Mother Earth is at the forefront. At least that is the public image portrayed. Now look at the ‘Equity Securities and Foreign Securities’ listed as part of the Attawapiskat Trust; ‘Oil and Gas’, TRC Resources LTD, Baytex Energy Corp, Bona Vista Energy Corp and more; ‘Pipelines’, Enbridge Inc, Pembina Pipeline Corp; ‘Foreign Securities’; China Mobile Ltd, Haliburton Co, Exxon Mobile Corp, Occidental Petroleum Corp and Petroleo Brasileiro SA Adr.
Mother Earth can be proud! True Chief Theresa Spence will possibly claim she has no idea where investments are made as long as they bring a profit. The Assembly First Nations were sent a letter in 2011 requesting their help in an issue of not only the democratic rule of Canada but the issue of the oil sands and its damage to our future and environment. No one at the AFN saw reason to even respond. It is somewhat clearer now as to why.
Chief Spence sits on a trust account worth close to $10 million and has at her disposal the means to relieve the worst of the crisis. Yet Chief Spence chose to declare a state of emergency for the third time and go on the world stage blaming the government and demanding even more money. If these facts are not true than let Chief Spence speak out against them.
As research into the Attawapiskat situation continued only more questions were raised which made less and less sense of the claims and accusations made by Chief Theresa Spence. After all it was Chief Spence who chose the glaring limelight of the international stage, and it was Chief Spence who chose to attack in essence Canada itself.
‘Attawapiskat First Nation Consolidated Financial Statements Years Ended March 31 2011 and 2010′, provided only more confusion regarding Chief Spence and her claims. Mind you these are signed by Chief Theresa Spence and would be difficult to deny. As one attempts to traverse the terrain of a ‘Consolidated Statement of Financial Activities’ and ‘Accumulated Surplus’ without a guide from Deloitte at hand basic common terms stick out regardless of lack of accounting skills. For instance the Accumulated Surplus for end of year at $60,686,128.00 and the various figures for Revenue for year 2011, speak for themselves as do the Expenditures. It is the expenditures that raise an eyebrow. Noting that Attawapiskat has an on-reserve population of less than 2000 with a fair number of these being children, certain expenses beg questioning. Putting aside accounting jargon such as amortization, interest on long-term debt and write down of accounts receivable, one can question what is ‘Program Delivery’ at $12,226,769? Most of us are familiar with our utility bills where usage is one amount and then a delivery charge equal to it, and we shudder to the bone in an attempt to understand that.
In Attawapiskat the population is somewhat on the smallish side numbering less than 2000, yet there is a wages and employee benefits amount for 2011 totalling $11,228,614? How many employees collected such an amount of money for 2011? What are the employee benefits? Medical, no that’s supposedly free in Canada; Education, no that’s paid for by the government; Transportation, its not exactly a huge distance they need to travel; maybe a Pension Plan or RRSP’s. Having established that Attawapiskat is not a large area with a small population, yet the Administration cost for 2011 was $3,290,047? Administering what, a crisis?
As the spokespeople for Chief Spence had pushed the tired old song of a smear campaign in response to the miracle of the leaked Deloitte and Touche financial audit and that Chief Spence had only been chief since 2010, on this ‘Consolidated Financial Statement’ it is Theresa Spence’s signature. Chief Spence cannot deny any of this, nor can she walk away from serious questioning. Who is responsible for the crisis at Attawapiskat? Images of horrendous living conditions flood out from Attawapiskat and Chief Spence pushes with her supposed hunger strike monopolizing the media. Yet in Canada thousands of seniors are finding that they cannot pay for bread in the final week of each month. These are people who have put their lives in the building of this country. Lets put Chief Spence’s Teepee in front of a Social Services community office and ask a family of three who receive a maximum of $1,012.00 for the month with rent at $600 – $800 plus utilities how they feed their children. Or look at those on minimum wage who stand in line at a food bank only to find empty shelves. These Canadians do not have trust accounts worth millions of dollars, they do not have a corporation making undisclosed payments annually in the millions of dollars. None of these people look to publicly insult Canada or blame someone else for their situation with a public display of ‘hunger strikes’ or blockades of innocent people.
Maybe Chief Spence since she chose to manipulate the media for her stardom should look at the whole town of 250 families, that’s more than the 1884 residents of Attawapiskat, built on a landfill in Paraguay. These people sift through the garbage to make a living and have taken what others dump to lift themselves with music and sheer determination. No million dollars coming in annually here, no trust accounts worth millions of dollars. Still Chief Spence has her demands for more. Oliver would be proud.
In Canada it is our democratic right to raise our voices in opposition to inequality or injustice. Prime Minister Harper has made that clear more than once in respect to Chief Spence and her actions. We are not Russia where the voices of four young women protesting conditions of the innocent were silenced by threat and force. Vladimir Putin may play at portraying a democracy but his past is still deeply rooted in the feared KGB, and democracy is simply a farce. Millionaires like the french actor Gerard Depardieu may blurt out their praises of Vladimir Putin and distort the facts for their own personal gain, but the facts stand on their own. Monsieur Gerard Depardieu and his wealth guarantees that wherever he decides to plant his girth he will find his version of democracy will follow. The rest of the people of Russia know the sad truth.
Canada allows and accepts the openness of protest and differing opinion made public. Yet the manipulation of protest is no different than elsewhere. Chief Spence has found loud allies in opposition parties and elected representatives have made it a point to portray themselves as champions on Chief Spence’s side. Truth matters little to any of them, after all it was Pierre Trudeau as Prime Minister who had interfered with official reports of mercury poisoning in the Grassy Narrows area. It was Jean Chretien and the federal Liberal government who introduced the White Paper, only to backtrack and run from it.
Elizabeth May has been out to bang the drum of support as the only leader of a party to take the photo-op with Spence, yet one has to remember she is the only one elected from the Green Party. But it is Charlie Angus who needs to be asked if he saw only what he wanted so as to continue his attack on the opposition government. True Attawapiskat hails from MP Angus’ riding and where there is poverty it is horrendous but there is so much hard evidence that points to serious irregularities that only a blind man could not see them.
Manipulation of the unfortunate of Attawapiskat has not only been for cold political gain, it has been also by those entrusted with their well being. The questions surrounding the trust account, the millions of dollars in wages and employee benefits which total over $21 million dollars, administration costs at over $7.5 million dollars, and not to forget a program delivery cost of over $24 million dollars for the period of 2010 to 2011 are near impossible to fathom. One cannot forget that all of this supposed expenditure is for a reserve with less than 2000 residents.
Chief Theresa Spence chose to be placed on the public stage as a martyr for ‘her people’. Facts show something else, and they are undeniable regardless of how hard her supporters squirm. Most recently Chief Spence has truly broken out the theatrics with spokespeople from her Teepee announcing her Last Will and instructions about the care of her daughters. This comes not long after news of Chief Spence being videotaped popping into a hotel for a shower and whatever else. Again if this was not true then why has Chief Spence not denied the allegation?
News of the Deloitte audit was only shocking to the rest of us and was designed as a leak for a purpose. Chief Spence was contacted in writing by Deloitte advising her of the serious issues in the audit on August 28th 2012, long before her supposed selfless act of the now famous ‘hunger strike.’ Chief Spence now has stopped all cameras from entering Attawapiskat. WHY? Why is it that the caring MP Charlie Angus is not willing to bring the world’s eye on everything at Attawapiskat? Now that the facade of theatrics is being smashed away with fact and evidence is Chief Spence and MP Charlie Angus afraid of the Architectural Digest photo? Maybe Chief Theresa Spence is not willing to share with the world or Amnesty International the ‘before Chief’ and ‘after Chief’ photos. The amount of money at question puts at question more than Chief Spence at Attawapiskat, but others as well.
Chief Theresa Spence was able to find the moral and physical strength from preparing her Last Will to call Acting Chief Christine Kataquapit and personally instruct her to threaten two journalists from Global News, Jennefer Tryon senior investigative correspondent and Trevor Owens a photojournalist were threatened by band police with trespassing and breaching the peace if they did not leave. They were escorted in a police cruiser back to their hotel! This was on direct instructions from Chief Spence! According to Jennefer Tryon of Global News: “The acting chief said she had gotten a call from Theresa Spence herself telling all media to leave, and as far as I can tell we’re the only media here, but we’re being told by Theresa Spence herself that we had to leave.”
Spence’s spokesperson Danny Metatawabin claimed to have no knowledge of any media bans and that he did not know that Spence told the Global News journalists to leave Attawapiskat. What is Chief Spence worried about? What is Acting Chief Christina Kataquapit worried about?
Chief Theresa Spence went a little further with her game of theatrics, she has called on the AFN to cancel the Friday the 11th meeting with the PM. In her immense wisdom Chief Spence has said that since the Governor General has said he was not showing up on Friday nor will she, nor should anyone from the AFN. Spence’s reasoning is a little off centre here. Chief Spence claims to have written the Queen regarding this non-show by the GG. According to Spence, “We have sent a letter to Buckingham Palace and requesting that Queen Elizabeth II send forth her representative which is the Governor General of Canada. I will not be attending Friday’s meeting with the Prime Minister as the Governor General’s attendance is integral when discussing inherent and treaty rights.”
Someone should inform Chief Spence that the Royal Proclamation of 1763 by King George III changed somewhat after Confederation in 1867 and The British North America Act which got Royal Assent March 29th 1867 and was set into action July 1st 1867. The role of the British Monarchy changed in Canada, as Canada became a nation and no longer a British colony or outpost.
If Chief Spence needs further clarification here are two letters that the publisher of Mayorgate received from Buckingham Palace, one had been previously posted on Mayorgate and the second not until now. Buckingham Palace makes it clear that Queen Elizabeth II is only a constitutional monarch and in fact the Governor General has no real power or authority to do anything other than PR work on behalf of Canada. In issues surrounding our government and its legislation the Queen points out that it is the role of ‘her’ ministers to act. So by refusing to meet with Prime Minister Harper or his ministers, Chief Spence is refusing to meet with Her Majesty’s ministers. Somewhat hypocritical as one should remember it was Chief Spence who gave an ultimatum to the PM that she could not wait till January 24th and demand a meeting with the Prime Minister within 72 hours. The simple fact is that David Johnston as the Governor General has no authority, no voice nor any weight to interfere in any matters pertaining to the laws and legislation of this land. This has been clearly stated in writing and in the Queen’s English – twice by Buckingham Palace.
So is this checkmate or will Chief Theresa Spence pull another card from up her sleeve hoping for more media attention? Clearly the people of the First Nations have issues that need to be addressed and as Canadians they should expect the government to listen. At the same time it is now clear that the issues surrounding Chief Spence and Attawapiskat are more complex and answers must be demanded even under oath from Chief Spence. The facts and evidence are undeniable and doubts growing daily as to the true motivation behind the spectacle that has played out on the world stage.
Chief Theresa Spence chose to bring shame to Canada on an international level. We as Canadians have the right to demand direct and clear answers from Chief Spence to direct and clear questions.
On January the 10th the situation surrounding the IDLE NO MORE movement took a new turn and one that should be intolerable for any government to accept. No government regardless of the situation, whether in a hostage situation or threat of violence against its nationals, negotiates with terrorists. In a CBC News program Manitoba Grand Chief Derek Nepinak issued in public his demands which he followed up with a threat against Canada and its people. Postmedia News softened Nepinak’s actual words in their report by stating that “Nepinak said if the government didn’t acquiesce to demands aboriginals and the IDLE NO MORE protest movement…” (Jason Fekete & Jordan Press January 10, 2013 Postmedia).
The full threat made by Grand Chief Nepinak is as follows: “We’re not here to sign a new funding deal, or to make a small package agreement in new funding arrangements, that’s not what we’re here for. We recognize 140 years of colonial rule in our territory. We’re not requesting the Prime Minister to agree with us, we’re demanding that he agree with us. We’re demanding he agrees with us because we have the power, we have the true power as in the expression of love for one another, love for the land that we come from and we’ve got the geography covered. The IDLE NO MORE movement across the territories we call Canada goes from coast to coast to coast and it has broken through the medicine line into the United States and around the world. The IDLE NO MORE movement has the people, it has the people and the numbers that can bring the Canadian economy to its knees. It can stop Prime Minister Harper’s resource development plan and his billion dollar plan to develop resources in our ancestral territories. We have the warriors that are standing up now, that are willing to go that far.”
Nepinak threatened Canada and all its people, their safety and well being when he said “IDLE NO MORE protest movement had the people and the numbers that can bring the Canadian economy to its knees. These are demands not requests. We’re demanding (Harper) agree with us because we have the true power.” This threat to the people of Canada was echoed further from the mouth of Onion Lake First Nation Chief Wallace Fox who said “No long will the prime minister dictate to us. If we have to shut down this economy then we will.” (Jason Fekete & Jordan Press January 10, 2012 Postmedia).
There is a reality here that no longer can be overlooked because of our Canadian tolerance. Chief Teresa Spence should face a full judicial inquiry and answers demanded under oath to serious questions regarding Attawapiskat. Threats of terror, whether of violence or economics, to the nation and its people should be dealt with swiftly and severely. No Canadian should be placed or be allowed to be placed in potential harms way of any kind. Nepinak refers to the IDLE NO MORE movement crossing the “medicine line” south and abroad, yet those who sympathize abroad had only been provided half truths intended to manipulate public opinion and smear Canada. If Nepinak or any member of the First Nations had uttered such a threat south of the “medicine line” he would face the full and swift response of Homeland Security. No threat made publicly to the sovereignty of the United States of America or the safety and well being of its people would be tolerated.
Chief Shawn Atleo of the Assembly of First Nations had said that aboriginals and non-aboriginals alike “must be seized by this moment.” The question now is how does Canada respond to public threat of this nature? On the other hand Chief Theresa Spence had taken things a little further with a statement defending how her reserve spends government money. Spence still has not in any real terms explained the lack of documentation surrounding her spending but in a Globe and Mail article by Gloria Galloway January 11th 2013 Spence is quoted “Most of the funding that we have, it goes back to you, to taxpayers,” and “most of what flows to her isolated James Bay reserve actually gets spent outside the community, the money goes to buy supplies and to pay contractors, consultants and lawyers.”
Now Chief Theresa Spence has become ‘Mother Theresa’ giving back to the taxpayers, back to Canadians! If consultants and lawyers were hired for whatever reason they would provide copies of the accounting, she simply needs to name them. Yet it is her ‘Attawapiskat Consolidated Financial Statement for year 2011 and 2010′ that needs examination and explanation. Is Chief Spence trying to say that she at Attawapiskat paid the wages and employee benefits of the ‘contractors, consultants and lawyers’ to the tune of over $20 million dollars. Did these ‘contractors, consultants and lawyers’ provide some kind of programs to Attawapiskat which had a delivery charge of over $23 million?
It is time for serious answers to very serious questions and Chief Theresa Spence cannot provide them. Instead the theatrics are simply played out more and more. Media is banned from the Teepee site of Victoria Island, from Attawapiskat and no questions by media permitted. The evidence is undeniable and in the end Chief Spence through her silence has provided the answers.
The people of the First Nations are a proud people and they cannot be ignored yet the events surrounding Chief Spence and IDLE NO MORE are being manipulated out of proportion. Shiela Fraser, former Auditor General of Canada said on May 25th 2011 as part of her summation of ten years as Canada’s Auditor General, “What’s truly shocking, however, is the lack of movement. Last year, Indian and Northern Affairs Canada reported that between 2001 and 2006 there was little or no progress in the well-being of First Nations communities.”
Bob Rae, interim leader of the Liberal Party and others with their voices of indignation, full of accusation should remember that the period 2001 through 2006 that the former Auditor General of Canada spoke of was a federal Liberal government term. In the end maybe IDLE NO MORE is not so different than Pussy Riot of Russia.
~ Alexander Davidoff