Attawapiskat’s Problematic Investment Portfolio- And how it conflicts with #IdleNoMore’s values…

Welcome to Attawapiskat...

Welcome to Attawapiskat…

There’s been a lot of discussion this week about Attawapiskat’s investment portfolio. Investments are made in the name of the Attawapiskat Trust- a fund that was setup in 2007 to receive payments from De Beer’s for income from the Victor Diamond Mine. The trust’s documentation is available for download from Attawapiskat website, it’s an interesting read.

There’s been a lot of focus on the amount of money in the trust (almost $9 million in 2011), and on the curiously named $199,826 ‘Elder Recognition Benefit’ disbursement. What’s not been discussed so much are the investments they’ve made- and that’s surprising, because it’s a rather curious mix that conflicts with the principles of Idle No More…

INM was ignited by the introduction of Bill C-45, and Theresa Spence’s partial hunger strike. Bill C-45, and the problems with current treaty negotiations are a big part of INM, but it’s also about the environment. Take this statement from Ryerson University’s Pamela Palmater:

“This movement is also unique in that it includes Canadians as our allies. Just as the early days of contact when the settlers needed our help to survive the harsh winter months, and seek out a new life here, Canadians once again need our help…First Nations represent Canadians last best hope at stopping Harper from unfettered mass destruction of our shared lands, waters, plants and animals in the name of resource development for export to foreign countries like China.” (And many would add the US…)

So, a lot of INM is about environmentalism. This is confirmed by the ‘settler’ partners who have joined in supporting INM. Anti-tarsands protester Dave Vasey helped setup the Sarnia rail blockade, he was accompanied by Sakura Saunders, the leader of ProtestBarrick.net, an organization that focusses (curiously) specifically on Barrick Gold. Another Occupy star (and Tar-Sands protester)Taylor Flook, was leading the chants and speaking to the media at the INM blockade of a Ford plant yesterday.

Anarchists Sakura Saunders, Darius "Flagpole" Mirshahi, Dave Vasey & Lana

StopBarrick Gold’s Sakura Saunders (left) and Tar-Sands Crusader Dave Vasey (on right) in Sarnia

Palmater, and most of the people in INM, feel that the First Nations are the strongest possible allies for fixing issues with the environment. Her statement is not untrue- but, equally, it’s not a writ in stone assumption. There are many indigenous people across the country who’d be happy to expand natural resource extraction (though, I believe they are in the minority). Like any nation, people in indigenous communities come from a wide variety of opinions and priorities.

After reading through the Attawapiskat Trust’s chart of investments, it appears their investment board’s priorities aren’t quite in-tune with INM. In fact, the Trust is a direct investor in many of the companies that INM is in direct opposition to. Their portfolio has an ethically challenging company for everyone- mining, oil sands, big pharma, banking, Disney- and something even more sinister.

I’ll start with their investments in the oil sands industry- in many ways, the Trust’s portfolio reads like Dave Vasey’s Rainforest Action Network’s list of evil oil sands companies. They’ve invested in organizations including the Canadian Oil Sands Trust, Baytex Energy, Bonavista, and (of all companies!) Enbridge.

Being a mining town, Attawapiskat has logically made a number of mining investments- with what looks to be a focus on gold. Curiously, one of their larger investments is in a company that Sakura Saunders is quite passionate about- Barrick Gold. If you listen to Saunder’s rants about Barrick Gold, they are the devil incarnate. Saunders claims that Barrick is both an environmental disaster as well as being horrible to their employees and nearby villages of indigenous people.

The People of Vancouver will be disappointed to hear that Attawapiskat is an investor in Canexus- a company that owns the chlorine plant in North Vancouver that threatens 10’s of thousands of people in case of a disaster or earthquake. People from Occupy will be unhappy to hear that the Trust invests in Brookfield- a company that fought to evict Occupy Wall Street, and is preparing to cut-down old growth forests on Cortes Island.

If you thought their portfolio couldn’t have anything more evil than Disney (kidding) and Enbridge (not kidding), there’s one more surprise on the list. They’ve invested in Haliburton- a company that’s widely accepted to be one of the most evil organizations in the world. Haliburton is most famous for its part as a war profiteer in Afghanistan who did shoddy work (that electrocuted soldiers) for enormous payback. Haliburton also made the concrete base that cracked and flooded the Gulf of Mexico with crude oil. Only the most hardcore reactionaries have respect for Haliburton.

Dick Cheney- Former CEO of Haliburton

Dick Cheney- Former CEO of Haliburton

Put simply, if any Canadian university had an investment portfolio that read like the Trust’s does, the students would be marching on the President’s office with pitchforks and torches. In fact, there’s a currently major dispute between student unions and the University of Toronto over the influence of Peter Monk and Barrick Gold.

Theresa Spence made an announcement to INM this week saying that the chiefs were going to gather to discuss strategy. Moments later it was apparent that a schism was brewing- people in INM stepped up and made it clear they were independent from the chiefs. Is the gap between the Trust’s investments and INM’s values an example of what’s causing the split?

Harper’s now agreed to meet with the chiefs, but not with the rank & file. What’s the next step for INM? Perhaps they want to begin with an audit of their chief’s investment strategies…

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