Attawapiskat chief defends reserve spending
The Canadian Press
Published Friday, January 11, 2013 11:02AM EST
Last Updated Friday, January 11, 2013 11:50AM EST
OTTAWA -- Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence is speaking out for the first time about how her Ontario reserve spends government money, saying most of what flows to the isolated James Bay community actually gets spent outside the reserve.
She says the money goes to buy supplies and to pay contractors, consultants, lawyers -- and to taxes.
"Most of the funding that we have, it goes back to you, to taxpayers," Spence said Friday prior to a protest march scheduled to descend on Parliament Hill.
She looked frail, her voice shaky and her speech a bit disjointed, as she met briefly with members of the media outside her makeshift encampment on Victoria Island in the Ottawa River.
She's been there for more than a month, subsisting on tea and fish broth in a campaign to force a meeting with Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Gov. Gen. David Johnston.
Despite the insistence of her handlers that there would be no questions, someone on the sidelines demanded loudly that she account for her band's spending.
A government-ordered audit, leaked earlier this week, found there is little documentation to back up Attawapiskat's spending.
Spence said she has been the victim of false statements about her reserve's spending.
"It goes out of our reserve," she said. "For example, if there's housing, we have to hire contractors, we have to order the materials from out of town and the shipment, we pay tax on that.
"We hire lawyers ... consultants -- that's where the money goes."
Spence is expected to continue her hunger protest, since today's meetings aren't happening according to the terms demanded by the chiefs -- on their turf, with both Harper and Johnston together.
Several hundred supporters gathered near the encampment and began a slow protest march to Parliament.
They tramped over slippery streets, pounding drums, carrying banners and waving flags. A sporadic, cold drizzle bedraggled feather headdresses as the group snaked through the downtown.