Fr. Vézina - “All of us want to check where all of our tax money is going.”

Attawapiskat local pastor wants to know where all the money goes

  • December 7, 2011

It’s a good thing the federal government wants to know where millions of dollars given to the Attawapiskat community has gone, Fr. Rodrigue Vézina told The Catholic Register on the phone from the Northern Ontario reserve. Since 2007, the government has given more than $90 million to the struggling community.

“All of us want to check where all of our tax money is going,” said Vézina, an Oblate missionary and pastor of St. Francis Xavier parish in Attawapiskat, supported by Catholic Missions In Canada.

The small isolated town near the western shore of James Bay received international attention when Chief Theresa Spence declared a state of emergency in October as temperatures began to drop. For at least the past two years, many residents have lived in makeshift tents and shacks without heat, electricity or indoor plumbing.

The community was placed under third party management at the end of November, taking control of local finances from the elected council. But the local people, chiefs and counsellors don’t agree with the decision, said Vézina, who also serves the Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha mission in Peawanuk, on Hudson Bay, visiting the small village by plane once a month.

“And for sure the people want to be free,” he said. “They don’t want… somebody else over the administration of their business, of their local government.”

He said it’s important to note a diamond mine was opened in the community by DeBeers a few years ago. “But now the money has been pushed into a trust fund the band cannot touch,” said Vézina.

“The different companies come up north to make money, they get the resources there and they’re making big money out of it. And those people living in the north should have an income, a profit from that. I know the band cannot open a mine like DeBeers because it takes too much money, too much expertise. That’s the way it is now.”

According to the Canadian Press, the provincial government gets a 13-per-cent cut of revenues from the DeBeers’ mine, while Attawapiskat gets one per cent.

“There’s over 100 people on a waiting list right now waiting to get housing but they don’t have the money to buy supplies, to buy new houses or to repair the old ones that could be used,” said Vézina.

“Every time we turn on the radio or the TV, this is always on the news,” he said, which will help more people become conscious of what’s happening on reserves across Canada.

Attawapiskat is just one of the many reserves in Canada experiencing turmoil, he said.

“On TV last night, they were showing a house where there were holes in the ceiling, holes in the floor with small children living there and no beds, just a mattress on the floor,” he said.

Some of the houses are crowded with as many as 14 people living in them, said Vézina.

“That’s very crowded…That’s kind of a difficult situation (for students) to study at home,” he said. “But as a pastor, I think something good will come out of this,” he said. “I see the poor already being helped.”

The Canadian Red Cross has donated clothing, blankets, sleeping bags and heaters to those people in need, he said.

“They are in good spirits.”

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