CANADA`S MANY FIRST NATIONS
Bill McKnight a minister of Indian and Northern Affairs in the 1980`s, responding to the continuing welfare dependency in many aboriginal communities responded “What would you suggest in an isolated locale, without markets, without resources, without an industrial base and without economic opportunities. You try as best you can to provide a social safety net, as we do to all Canadians.
It is ironic, but originally the land allotted to the natives, to be used as reserves, was land of limited economic value, distant from the majority of Canadians. This was true in most cases but not all. Now the leaders of the First Nations, comprised of the elected chiefs and their associates and families, anthropologists, social workers, lawyers, etc, are fighting to keep the native people on these non-productive useless parcels because the land represents their claim to some form of self-rule, perpetuating the idea of nationhood. I find it difficult to believe that these leaders do not take into consideration that their jobs depend on the STATUS QUO.
In a speech made by First Nations Regional Chief, Angus Toulouse, at the “Make Poverty History” campaign launched in 2006, said “The reality to-day for First Nations communities is ongoing poverty, and an increasing gap in living conditions with other Canadians…First Nations poverty is the single greatest social issue in Canada to-day”. Poverty breeds crime, but this magnitude of poverty would bring crime with any other community, under similar conditions. There is a justified feeling of guilt in the minds of the Canadian public as to how we have treated the native people. How else to explain the failure of the of the Ontario Government to stop the influx of drugs and contraband cigarettes through the reserves bordering the United States, or the inaction of the Ontario Provincial Police in protecting a land-owner in the Caledonia land claims dispute with the Mohawk Six Nations. An out-of-court settlement was reached in Caledonia with the Ontario government settling with the land-owners. The federal and provincial governments throughout Canada have a two-tiered system in their application of the law towards aboriginals and other Canadians. There is a preferential treatment of the aboriginals that corrodes the law. Because of the guilt factor governments, provincial and federal, do not ask their police forces to crack down on infractures of the law because it will bring newspaper headlines and the futile lives of most of the poor aboriginals will be exposed for all to see. Thirty-eight percent of the deaths of young people on reserves are due to suicide. Twenty-seven thousand aboriginal kids are in foster homes, a figure larger than the number of young people taken by the government from their families many years ago, and put into residential schools.
When the Canadian public is so sympathetic to the plight of the aboriginals why is no action taken to begin the process of recovery? The answer lies in two directions. The governments have made such a mess, that the cost to fix would be horrendous for them, and the leaders of the First Nations feel that their people should decide for themselves how to run their affairs. The First Nations leaders advocate two major initiatives, land claims and self-government. Land claims are supposed to give the natives an economic base from which to regain self-sufficiency. However in some areas where the reserve land has resources, there are still people living off welfare. The self-government will bring back the pride of their culture that they lost by government control. I quote from the book “Disrobing the Aboriginal Industry” by Frances Widdowson and Albert Howard. “The legal and culturally sensitive bureaucratic solutions to aboriginal problems that the industry proposes, would continue to keep natives isolated and dependent, thus perpetuating existing social pathologies and not incidentally justifying demands for more funding for the Aboriginal Industry.” Billions of dollars are squandered each year and without going into detail you cannot make an economic and social success on these reserves. It is impossible to make it work regardless of the edicts of the institutes, journals, university departments and government funded agencies, all controlled by associates of the Aboriginal Industry. If you disagree with the decisions of these groups you are branded “racist”. End of conversation!
In the last 15 years, government committees have been influenced in their negotiations with the representatives of the natives by a concept called “Traditional Knowledge”. This is defined by Widdowson and Howard as knowledge and values which have been acquired through experience, observation from their lives on the land, and spiritual teachings handed down verbally from one generation to the next. North American tribes had no written history before the arrival of Europeans. In my opinion it is another lever to keep the situation as it is, controlled, and in the hands of the present native negotiators, aboriginal and non-aboriginal.
There are over 600 recognized First Nations` tribal governments spread all across Canada, half of which are in Ontario and British Colombia. They can be as diverse from each other as the English, French and Dutch are from each other in Europe. The A.F.N. (Association of First Nations) can be compared politically to the E.U. (European Union).
Native tribes were here prior to Confederation, many years prior to the formation of Canada, and we conquered them in some cases, and made treaties in others. To a great extent the problems they face were created by the British government and subsequently by the Canadian government. The policy of giving money to the aboriginal communities is not leading to integrated and successful lives for them in Canada. The system, as it stands, does not work, it needs changing. It will not be simple, and must be favourable to the Aboriginals so that it brings their standard of living to the level of all Canadians.
Power, self-interest and hypocrisy are not exclusive to any particular group of humans. The people leading the aboriginals do not want changes that take away their power or jobs. How else to account for Mayor Glen Hudson and the four band councilors of the Pequis First nations, a community of 7200 people, getting between $295,000 to $440,000 in tax-free salary. This is particularly outrageous, but this scenario is common in a lot of western Canada reserves with oil, gas and forestry on their property. Even wealthy reserves have unemployment while local band councilors live in large homes and travel extensively. Why are these leaders so free to take advantage? They purport to maintain traditional tribal culture, but the end result is that essential services such as education, health and housing are wanting.
The idea of “Traditional Knowledge” cannot be backed up with scientific evidence that it is useful in benefiting the people. If the aboriginals want to keep their traditional culture, they should maintain it as all immigrants to Canada do, with private effort and very little government money. The issue of land claims must be addressed expeditiously. It is native land and must remain so as long as it makes economic sense. If not, the land should be taken back by the government and the persons living there should be compensated, not for the value of the land which could be nominal, but for past injustices. This is not a short-term plan but may well take up to fifty years to complete, and when it is over the aboriginals will be another minority in a country of minorities. Hundreds of small aboriginal nations living in Canada with certain rights of self-government have produced a failing life-style for the natives and never-ending trouble for the Canadian government. It is absolutely necessary for the aboriginals to meet and after meeting make their demands to the government. The Canadian people, the vast majority of the Canadian people ,support them. Canada is not racist. The vast number of young aboriginals committing suicide is a disgrace. It is due to a lack of hope.
To summarize I personally suggest the following:
1. Welfare funding and other government help should be given directly to the native people and not through their tribal organizations.
2. Uneconomic reserves should be broken up and the people living there should be compensated by the government. with approval from the people.
3. Schools to provide education for the youth and career jobs for adults should be run by the government on reserve land with aboriginal input. If the community is too small the students should be brought to area schools and taught by aboriginal teachers. They will NEVER again be racist. NO MORE RESIDENTIAL TYPE SCHOOLS.
4. Culture, religion and life-style must be maintained by the individual aboriginal.
5. All over Canada, non-native groups should form organizations to facilitate these changes and to exert pressure on the government.
6. Whatever the cost, land claims must be addressed within a set number of years and not put off by tactics of the government or native groups.
I sympathize with our native people, but the system in place now is not working for them or the Canadian government and people. It works for native leaders and