A television crew has been kicked out of of Attawapiskat and the woman who is acting as the chief while Theresa Spence is on a hunger strike says no outside media will be allowed into the Northern Ontario first-nations community until further notice.
A team from Global News in Toronto was given their marching orders on Tuesday by Acting Chief Christine Kataquapit.
“We were given instructions by the chief and council that we won’t allow media until further notice in our community,” Ms. Kataquapit told The Globe and Mail in a telephone interview.
A day earlier, an audit ordered by the federal government that found widespread bookkeeping irregularities in Attawapiskat’s financial records between 2005 and 2011, was leaked to the media.
The audit by Deloitte did not find any evidence that funds had been misappropriated. But Ms. Spence, who has been subsisting on a diet of fish broth and herbal tea in Ottawa for four weeks to force a meeting with Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Governor-General David Johnston, said its release was designed to discredit her.
It was the audit that led to the media ban, said Ms. Kataquapit. “We are just going to wait for the results of Chief Spence’s meeting with the Prime Minister and government officials on Friday,” before deciding if media will be allowed back into Attawapiskat, she said.
It could be a long wait. Mr. Johnston’s office said Tuesday that he will not be at the meeting and Ms. Spence’s spokesman said that means she may also decide not to show up.
But the Global team has been sent home. Jen Tryon, Global National’s senior investigative correspondent, told Global anchor Dawna Friesen that she and her camera crew had just arrived at the hotel in Attawapiskat when they were told to leave by Ms. Kataquapit.
“We sort of laughed, thinking, joking,” said Ms. Tryon, “but then she said the chief asked all media to leave the community. We looked at ourselves and realized it wasn’t a joke, and they weren’t going to allow anyone to speak to the media.”
Ms. Kataquapit apparently called the police who told the news crew they would be arrested for trespassing and breaching peace if they didn’t leave. The reporters were then escorted to the airport.
“A community member said, as we were waiting for the police to arrive, that he was shocked that this was going on,” Ms. Tryon told Ms. Friesen. “Prior to this happening, we had gotten a welcome response from the community. They were eager to talk about what the audit was really about – how it wasn’t showing the full picture of what was happening in Attawapiksat.”
Although many first nations are accustomed to outsiders driving through their communities, the fly-in reserves in the North usually demand that any visitors receive an invitation from the chief or council before they arrive. The reserves are the property of the first nations.
Ms. Kataquapit said the Global team did not ask for that permission. “They just came in,” she said, “and we just received a call from a band member here saying there was media in town.”
Ms. Tryon told The Globe she called the band office on Monday and got no response then went to the office immediately after landing but there was no one there.
“And to be honest, I didn’t think it was going to be that big a deal just showing up,” she said, “because we just showed up the last time we came to Attawapiskat and it was fine.”
The problems of Attawapiskat go back many decades. But it was media coverage last year that brought the deplorable living conditions of some of the community’s members to international attention.