THREE WEEKS AGO I attempted to put Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence into an environment of past events, and along the way to challenge critics on evidentiary grounds. That was then.
Now details of the anticipated government-ordered audit have arrived, and from this evidence come unavoidable conclusions. The principal one, in my view, attaches directly to Ms. Spence’s credibility. Only this morning I encountered a headline in which the previous Prime Minister of Canada called Spence an inspiration, and while it happens that many — among them residents of Attawapiskat — have only ever regarded her with exasperation, Mr. Martin joins a thick queue of high profiled and credulous admirers.
In years past I’ve attended ceremonies on Victoria Island. Within easy walking distance you will find ordinary folk who as a matter of course hunger involuntarily, for reasons not limited to but including mental illness, a lack of life skills and an absence of family, friends, and other personal support networks. There is no shortage of human misery out there, a chunk of which indeed germinated in the policies and actions of past governments. No one doubts that this will continue to be the case, the roundtables of present and future chiefs and prime ministers notwithstanding.
I note this in anticipation of yet more spotlight occupation by a politician twice now the self-made focus of worldwide media. Spence exhibits a predilection for the camera and for the business of notoriety. A year ago her publicity campaign led to the government’s swift imposition of third party management — an outcome she spent a good deal of time thereafter fighting. Now the audit which is a legacy of last Winter’s public relations effort is falling into the lap of this Winter’s campaign.
The Deloitte & Touche audit, which you may be surprised to hear delivered some good news among the much bad — see the “Observed Strengths” sections — raises many questions. For example: how is it that the Attawapiskat council submitted audited consolidated financial statements (prepared by chartered accountants Ross, Pope & Company LLP) year upon year to the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs, and for ten years was under co-management, as all the while successive chiefs and councils failed to observe basic accounting and clerical norms?
The scope of a conventional year-end audit is of course by necessity limited. It is often something quite beyond the routine submission of financial statements that draws one’s attention, and so the irony of the moment is that we have only Theresa Spence herself to thank for our present journey from James Bay to Transparency Station. Had she kept a lower profile, Attawapiskat would to this day be what it was in early December 2011, which is to say a word Ezra Levant hadn’t yet learned how to pronounce.
Along the principle of too many Chiefs and not enough Indians, I absorb all of this, and more, and I wonder if anyone could even be helped at this late point by what is termed “the leadership.” Here there is much blame to spread about, and the Chief herself should own up to this solid fact. In any case, the role of hunger striking crusader requires at the least a store of moral credibility and the placing of one’s own affairs in order, the failure to meet these criteria introducing the likelihood of discredit and disgrace — and in this sad instance not only for the Hookimaw herself but for the many people into whose unsolicited representation she has eagerly pressed herself.
For this reason I hope but doubt that Spence’s defenders and champions aim at a higher standard by requiring credible answers to the unpleasant questions of this and coming weeks and by refusing henceforth to accept “it’s the government’s fault” or “my hands are tied” as a full and sufficient account from those bound for the mountain top. The complete lack of documentation for dozens of band transactions will only advance the suspicion of fraud. It would be nice to know as a certainty that the folks rushing to our collective rescue at least meet the ordinary standards of competence, and that they aren’t fattening their bottom line as they thin out their bottoms.