Audit of Canada native band casts cloud on protest movement

Mon Jan 7, 2013 4:19pm EST
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By David Ljunggren

OTTAWA (Reuters) - A Canadian native band that successfully pressured the prime minister to hold a special meeting on aboriginal grievances cannot account for millions of dollars in federal funding, according to an audit that critics say was leaked to discredit a growing protest movement.

Angry native activists, fed up with poor living conditions they blame on decades of neglect from Ottawa, have blockaded rail lines and threatened to close Canada's borders with the United States in a campaign they call Idle No More.

Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence has been on a hunger strike for almost a month near Parliament Hill in Ottawa to demand better treatment for natives.

But the August 2012 report from accounting firm Deloitte said Spence's Attawapiskat First Nation in northern Ontario had shown "no evidence of due diligence" in accounting for how it spent federal money intended to improve housing and health. The audit was leaked to some media organizations over the weekend, and released on Monday.

A spokesman for Spence said she would address the audit on Friday when she and other aboriginal leaders will discuss social and economic issues with Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper. The leak was designed to discredit Spence, he added.

"They're trying to undermine the process here, the movement of the people. The people are speaking out," Danny Metatawabin told reporters.

Successive Canadian governments have for decades struggled to improve the life of natives, who want more federal money and a greater say over what happens to resources on their land.

Ottawa spends around C$11 billion ($11.1 billion) a year on an aboriginal population of 1.2 million, yet living conditions for many are poor, particularly for those on reserves with high rates of poverty, addiction, joblessness and suicide.   Continued...

Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence (C) takes part in a news conference with supporters outside her teepee on Victoria Island in Ottawa January 4, 2013. REUTERS/Chris Wattie