I am a strong believer in personal accountability. And so I have to come clean: for a while, I really did feel that First Nations people in Canada living on remote reserves had only themselves to blame for their conditions and their prospects. But I realize now more than ever how ignorant this is (and therefore, how ignorant I am) and that I’ve been looking at this picture from the wrong lens.
After reading about the terrible state of affairs in the First Nations community of Attawapiskat in northern Ontario, it’s become even clearer to me that we have really failed these people. We took their land, we told them they had the right to govern their own affairs but everything had to be endorsed by some vague Ministry or Department, and then we hung them to dry. We are like the parent who tells an infant, “Here’s some money, now run along and go figure life out.” Wouldn’t you call Child Services?
Since the Constitution, successive governments of this country – out of guilt -became too caught up in ensuring that our indigenous peoples were given the freedom to maintain their traditions, so they took a laissez-faire approach, under the guise of respect for First Nations people. But after overtaking their land, Canada the country moved forward, and progressed into the 21st century and left First Nations communities in their dust.
While providing funding, the Canadian government has not provided support and guidance, even for the fundamentals such as infrastructure: clean water and housing, which are the gateway to all other opportunities like education and jobs. How could First Nations reserves ever be expected to move into the 21st century with us at this rate? Why are we surprised about where they stand today?
And so we find ourselves in this very dark place: Red Cross, a non-profit organization known for disaster relief efforts in Third World countries, has been sending in personnel to Attawapiskat to provide immediate relief to our own people due to the lack of shelter. Shame on us. In an article in This Magazine, writer Ashly Dyck summed things up succinctly when writing about the horrible condition of drinking water in the First Nations community of Little Salmon Carmack, Yukon:
For northern First Nations problems are made worse by systemic issues rooted deeply in the structure of our government; caught in a jurisdictional no-man’s-land between Indian and Northern Affairs, the territorial governments, and other government departments charged with funding infrastructure and assisting First Nations, their cases get shuffled from one department to another until they are finally dropped.
A big deal was made about how the Assembly of First Nations was actively consulted on how to integrate the First Nations culture into the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Games opening ceremony, and as such, we proudly paraded some of our Chiefs around for that event (now, why they ever agreed to do this is not something I can explain). Go here and tell me we should be proud.