Today the federal government revoked the sovereignty of the Attawapiskat First Nation. Attawapiskat has been in a state of emergency for the last two years, but an appeal to the media by their NDP MP caused the government to act.
Attawapiskat is one of the few bands that posts their financial statements online. I actually just finished a course in reading government financial statements, so I skimmed through them. It turns out that First Nations financial statements are a lot more complicated than, say, the financial statement for the Government of Canada. Here’s a long blog post discussing the problems with First Nations financing with references to Attawapiskat. I wrote up a post with what I thought was the smoking gun but then I realized I had misread the statements (and hid my previous post because it’s embarrassing).
The trick with First Nations funding is that the federal government gives them a bunch of payments earmarked for certain areas of expenditure. This is similar to health transfers to the provinces – I’d argue that both violate the Constitutional sovereignty of these governments. The education situation in Attawapiskat is too complicated so let’s look at the housing fund:
|Wages and benefits||$183,546||$781,114||$1,216,672||$1,518,307||$1,318,281||$1,374,128||$6,392,048|
The obvious question is why the hell is a housing fund spending so much on wages, “program delivery” and administration, and so little on capital? Are these euphemisms for repairs or fraud?
The huge jump in spending in 2007 was the year before a new chief and council got elected, which doesn’t make that much sense. The financial statements don’t say where the transfers come from (I believe it’s another Attawapiskat fund), but a big transfer in 2009 got spent on some kind of capital. Then a huge increase in government funding for 2010 didn’t get spent on anything.
Attawapiskat’s financial statements don’t make enough sense to say whether there is mismanagement but I’m skeptical of any organization that has so much variance from year to year. Most organization’s financial statements show steady operational expenses with occasional capital purchases. Insofar as protection of the citizens of Attawapiskat outweighs their right to self-governance, I support the federal takeover of their government. But why didn’t someone at Indian Affairs see this coming a long time ago?