November 30, 2011
An open letter to Stephen Harper regarding the situation in Attawapiskat
Prime Minister Harper:
Today it was announced that the community of Attawapiskat will be placed under Third Party Management. It seems more than a coincidence that once an Indigenous community speaks out and up about the difficult housing conditions, they are then penalized in a draconian manner by your government. It reflects poorly on Canada that the Red Cross was called in to assist.
kâ-kânâtâ-askiy (Canada) is a rich country. There are many resources at the disposal of the country to assist in the daily lives of Indigenous people. In turn, with the large diamond mine in the area of this community’s traditional territory, this point resonates even more so.
Rather than assess the situation thoroughly, your government simply declares unilaterally that a Third Party Management regime will be established- a move from the co-management structure that had been in place.
It is of the highest order of hypocrisy that that the government stages a military celebration and honouring in relation to recent deployment in Libya. Presumably, this was done to honour the soldiers, which is always a dignified thing to do, but presumably it was also done to signal a triumph for the people of Libya, in terms of having the freedom to live their lives in peace and security- which is of course something to celebrate.
However, why is the freedom and dignity of Indigenous people not held to the same measure and degree in Attawapiskat? Why does your government have no hesitation in sending aid to other countries and peoples throughout the world, yet within its own borders, instead of helping Indigenous people in need, blames them vis-à-vis the establishment of a Third Party regime?
My late grandfather (mosôm), John R. McLeod served in the Canadian army in World War II. He often spoke of the hypocrisy of Canada fighting for freedom for other people abroad, yet Indigenous people had little freedom in their homelands in Canada. It seems that without proper housing and basic living necessities of life, the Cree of Attawapiskat cannot have true freedom , and their basic dignity as human beings will be diminished. It seems, that despite the many decades since my grandfather was a soldier, the fundamental paradox of freedom still permeates the country of Canada at its core.
The measure of any country rests in how it treats those citizens most in need. It seems on this score, in relation to the Cree people of Attawapiskat, your government has failed in a dramatic fashion. Your government acts without honour, and hides behind political sleights of hand such as “third party management.” Instead of blaming the people of Attawapiskat, your government should be working with the Cree people of this community to creatively find solutions.
My great-grandfather câpân, Able McLeod was part of the League of Indians. This grass roots political movement sought social justice for Indigenous people. I have no doubt that they would have done everything they could to assist the Cree people of Attawapiskat. The words, dreams, and honour of my great-grandfather Able McLeod linger in my heart. I am compelled to write this letter to voice the social justice that lingers.
You have a choice. You can continue to engage in a blame the victim discourse, or, you could move towards a discourse and action of honour, and move towards move towards assisting the people of Attawapiskat have basic dignity in their lives. Your choice will speak to the moral foundation of this country.
Dr. Neal McLeod
*mailed on November 30, 2011