First Nations must answer probing questions — for their own benefit

By Anthony Furey, Postmedia Network

Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence speaks with journalists about her hunger strike in a teepee on Victoria Island in Ottawa December 27, 2012. (REUTERS/Chris Wattie)

Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence speaks with journalists about her hunger strike in a teepee on Victoria Island in Ottawa December 27, 2012. (REUTERS/Chris Wattie)

Two wrongs seem to make a right in the topsy-turvy logic of Idle No More.

That partially explains the Ipsos Reid poll just released.

Sixty-three percent of Canadians want the government to improve conditions on reserves and work quicker to resolve land claims.

Yet the same poll shows 81% don’t want any more money going to reserves until accountability improves.

It also shows that while 51% of Canadians support the Assembly of First Nations leadership, scandal-plagued Theresa Spence is far from popular at 29%.

In other words, Canadians want to help but they also want to ask tough questions.

Fair enough?

Well, not for some of the Idle leadership.

The first sign of that attitude was the response to the Deloitte audit of Attawapiskat. It was a damning report showing the terrible accountability on the James Bay reserve.

So, it’s an opportunity to admit faults and come out stronger in the end?

No way.

Instead, let’s run interference. Spence and her crew refused to speak to the media. Pam Palmater, an Idle spokesman, denounced the report as Conservative deflection tactics.

This week, the smug "#Ottawapiskat" trend started.

On social media, people are having a blast likening Attawapiskat to the federal government.

Both have a leader who doesn’t answer to the people! Both are in a lousy financial state!

Aren’t we so witty?

Left-wing heroine Judy Rebick tweeted: “The Chief in #Ottawapiskat is the 4th highest paid gov’t leader in the world. He makes US$296,400 compared to $42,000 for average person.”

It’s an “I know you are but what am I.”

But this shouldn’t be about scoring cheap points. In the real world, two wrongs make two wrongs and we’re all the worse off for it. (Plus, no fiscal conservatives are defending Harper for hitting the $600-billion debt mark.)

Which brings us to Wednesday’s day of action — which varied from protests at bridges to rail blockades in Manitoba and Ontario.

The latter is the sort of economic trouble more radical chiefs promised.

There are usually two purposes to blockades: To get attention and to get results. The former has already been accomplished.

As for the latter — what the demands are, remains, even after last Friday’s big meetings, vague.

This is a crucial time for First Nations leaders. They’ve got the public’s attention. They must use it or they will lose it.

One of the more telling parts of the Ipsos poll is that 60% of people now think First Nations’ are responsible for their own problems.

It’s one of those ideas the public sphere wants to discuss but knows it’s taboo — mostly for fear of being labelled racist.

But there are common sense points to make: Reserve problems persist despite ample finances; their lack of property rights and lousy accounting and elections standards are the Indian Act status quo that people like Palmater strangely fight to maintain; many reserves are isolated, some far from jobs — most of us would pack up and move in search of opportunity.

The onus isn’t on Canadians to stop asking probing questions.

It’s on First Nations to answer them — for their own benefit.

Canadians shouldn’t feel bad for wanting answers about Spence’s finances.

Unless this changes — and resistance to scrutiny must stop — you can bet public support will fall further.


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