1. Why was a third-party manager put in charge of the reserve's financial affairs in 2011?
Officially, the move was made to respond to a housing crisis that became the subject of widespread media attention. But a Federal Court judge found that decision "unreasonable," determining that no financial mismanagement had led to the housing crisis. The Attawapiskat band council sees the manager's appointment as politically motivated, retaliation for the embarrassing publicity the housing problems caused the Harper government.
2. What caused the housing crisis in the first place?
Attawapiskat's seriously substandard housing has attracted national and international publicity, but that situation is widespread on First Nations reserves. Attawapiskat is one of seven Mushkegowuk Cree communities in the James Bay region, several of which are experiencing housing shortages. The Mushkegowuk council declared a housing state of emergency in 2011. Attawapiskat has received some $6.5 million for housing over the last six years from the feds, which seems like a lot until you factor in the far higher costs of construction materials and transport in the North. The town is accessible by a winter ice road from late January to March, and only by air the rest of the year.
3. Is the federal government providing enough funding?
Roughly speaking, the $17 million or so received by Attawapiskat annually works out to about $11,000 per resident, which is a good deal below Canada's poverty line. Federal money is not dispersed to individual members of the band - a widely held misconception. It's spent delivering programs and services. In fact, much of the money doesn't even stay on the reserve, but pays for goods, materials and services purchased off reserve.
4. Has the nearby De Beers diamond mine been a boon to the community?
Not exactly. The mine provided jobs for Attawapiskat during the construction phase of the project, but those dried up after 2008 as more specialized workers requiring industrial certifications were required to fill positions. Some 60 Attawapiskat members are currently employed at the mine. In 2009, a sewage backup in the community caused by De Beers resulted in the displacement of 100 people from their homes.
5. Did the band council use $200,000 from its education fund to purchase a Zamboni?
No. The Zamboni story is one of several (Chief Theresa Spence using her influence to hire her live-in boyfriend being another) that have taken on a life of their own. A Zamboni was purchased to resurface the ice at the local rink, but it was bought for $85,035 and paid for with money fund-raised through charity bingo.