The Attawapiskat First Nation may be thousands of miles away from our region of Okanagan-Coquihalla, however living conditions in that community are a concern that many local citizens have directly raised with me. It is an issue that many citizens have expressed some strong views about and I have also had many requests to include this topic in my weekly MP report.This is undeniably a very important topic and one that I know many Canadians take very seriously. No Canadian takes pleasure in witnessing poor living conditions and rampant poverty within our great nation and likewise Canadian taxpayers desire accountability and to know that our tax dollars are being well spent. It is clear that in Attawapiskat we are failing to get the results that Canadians taxpayers expect from Government. In terms of your tax dollars, over $90 million, the equivalent of $ 54,000 for each man, women and child living within the Attawapiskat first nation has been transferred to the band leadership. I have taken the time to read the financial statements from the Attawapiskat First Nation. While there is undeniably a shortage of acceptable housing in the community, there is no shortage of governance. A former chief, an acting chief and a deputy chief lead a band council that had a total of 19 councillors receiving some form of payment during the last fiscal year. On the school and education board there were a further 12 board member positions receiving payment. Collectively these expenses are part of a $3.2 million administration budget for an on reserve population of roughly 2000 residents. We must also be mindful of the fact that this situation has developed while the Attawapiskat First Nation has been under co-management for the past decade with the Department of Aboriginal Affairs.
While it is important to identify challenges, we must also expand our focus beyond the failures and recognize the need to find workable solutions beyond the status quo. It is clear that there are no easy answers to this challenge. Yet we do have many successes stories within our First Nations communities and perhaps it is time we also focus more on what is working, as opposed to solely what is not. We are fortunate in the riding of Okanagan-Coquihalla that many of our First Nations have had greater success in creating jobs and prosperity. That is not to say that there are not still challenges remaining, but collectively leaders such as Chief Clarence Louie from the Osoyoos Indian Band and Chief Robert Louie from the Westbank First Nation have been extremely successful in creating jobs and increasing outside revenue for their respective bands. I am also pleased to report that a recent meeting with Penticton Indian Band Chief Jonathan Kruger has me very impressed with the exciting vision that Chief Kruger has for the PIB.
As Members of Parliament we also need to be part of the solution. The Penticton Indian Band has some very exciting projects that will create jobs and much needed revenue for the band. However as was pointed out by Chief Kruger, an abundance of land is of little benefit without infrastructure and services. Rather than focus resources after the fact, it is time to be more proactive and seek opportunities that are shovel ready. It is also important to recognize that one size fits all solutions as Ottawa is often accustomed to delivering need to be more flexible. In the months ahead I am looking forward to working with the PIB and Chief Kruger in an effort to create some positive economic opportunities on the band lands west of Penticton.
It should also be noted that in the Merritt area there is a new silver mine soon to get underway and that mine is anticipating roughly thirty percent of the workforce to be from local nearby First Nation communities. In total the mine will inject between $ 12 - $ 15 million annually into the local Merritt economy. As this is the final week the House of Commons is in session for the year I will have an opportunity to visit Merritt early next week. If you would like to schedule an appointment please do not hesitate to contact my office toll free at 1-800-665-8711
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Dan Albas is the Member of Parliament for the riding of Central Okanagan-Similkameen-Nicola.