Anguish Over Aboriginals—How Canadian

By David T. Jones on December 16, 2011

One of the enduring elements of Canadian psychic angst is the status of its First Nations.  

Over the years, indeed over the decades, an observer can recall the viewing-with-alarm and/or dismay that affect Canadians when one or another instance of ghetto in the woods associated with a First Nation reserve comes to light.  Long-term observers have ricocheted from

- James Bay child gasoline sniffers to;

- Kashechewan water purification; to

- Attawapiskat shanty housing.

Or pathetic other disasters of similar ilk in roughly a quarter of the reserves.

For each illustration of disaster, there have been pitiful descriptions of drugged, alcoholic, abused, neglected, hungry, cold, and generally miserable people.  The largest single topic in the annual USG human rights report on Canada is aboriginal issues examining inter alia reserve conditions.

But virtually never is there intimation that these people have any responsibility for their circumstances.

Oh, how Canadians love to feel guilty (which is a back-handed way of feeling superior).  From the weeping and lamentation, one could believe that Canadians had brutally enslaved aboriginalsafter dragging them from their native habitations that were overflowing with milk and honeywhere the deer and the antelope play.  

No amount of money seems to resolve the problem, either specific or general.  In the most recent case, Attawapiskat reportedly received $90 million over the past five years.  And band administrators secured a very substantial portion of that largess.  The primal scream from any rational observer should be “waste, fraud, incompetence.”  But these comments are deliveredsotto voce at most; aboriginal leadership’s most practiced responses are insisting on “national” independence and claiming that any criticism or requirement for fiscal oversight is “blaming the victim” and intruding on tribal/band sovereignty.  

Canada’s role apparently is to shut up and pay—more each year—without critical comment.

In truth, the social cultural circumstances appear irresolvable.  Aboriginals reportedly desire to live on their traditional land—and have other Canadians arrange for them to live there in comfort regardless of cost.  The reality is that band members with any “get up and go” initiative have got up and gone.  They have made their way in the world and manage the 21st century without regrets.

There are answers. One traditional advancement mechanism for a disadvantaged group, e.g., immigrants, is education.  How to deliver this benefit becomes the key.  Finding skilled teachers willing to commit years to life in middle-of-nowhere reserves is technically possible but unrealistic.  But gathering young aboriginals into cohesive education facilities has the stench of “residential schools.” .Could sophisticated IT and modern transportation to connect with families on reserves alleviate deracination among a new generation of such students?  No one will ever know.  

Would a rotating cadre of Canadian Forces combat engineers serving six month tours be able to inculcate techniques for water purification, sanitation systems, and housing maintenance?  Would it be more efficient to provide individual home water purification systems rather than attempt to construct and maintain extended, complex water systems?

But band leadership, fully appreciating the vulnerability of their incompetent management to actuarial review, furiously rejects external intervention.  Thus in a “shoot the messenger” approach, the Attawapiskat leader expels the third party manager and aboriginal leaders appeal to the United Nations for a “special rapporteur” to review the government’s response.  Ah yes, the UN has such a reputation for fiscal probity and attention to human rights.

Indeed, many Canadian reserves have the conditions long observed in U.S. inner city ghettos:  with the end of legal segregation, the most intelligent, energetic, and entrepreneurial residents, quickly decamped for more congenial accommodations.  Those remaining are the hard core often characterized by poverty, crime, drug abuse, alcoholism, educational failure, and broken families with single mothers attempting to raise multiple children.  The sole advantage the United States has is that its “reserves” are not frozen over six months per year. But Canada is a wealthy country and can afford to reinforce failure.  Aboriginal issues are a “third rail” akin to “two tier” medicine when considering comprehensive solutions.  Ottawa will again attempt to resolve the problem by stuffing this cat with cream.


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