02 December 2011

In crisis: Canada's first peoples

Canada's native reserves are in crisis and have been for a very long time. Stephen Harper's government is under fire for its handling of an emergency housing crisis on the Attawapiskat reserve. Ottawa has ploughed $90 million dollars into the reserve with little positive to show for it. Whose fault is it? Brian Dijkema suggests that responsbility lies with "a complex cauldron of abuse, mismanagement, moral waffling, lies, and other foul ingredients put into the pot by a variety of cooks, including the federal government."

Gary Moore, an immigrant from South Africa to Canada, finds that this country's reserve system bears more than a passing resemblance to his homeland's odious racial policies of the past: Apartheid laws rule Canada’s First Nations reserves.
Change was once in the air in Canada. In 1969 the then Indian-affairs minister Jean Chrétien issued a policy white paper which proposed repeal of the Indian Act, the winding-up of the Indian-affairs department and transfer of its functions to other government departments, equal treatment for aboriginals, interim funds for native economic development, rejection of land claims, and new measures to allow indigenous people to control and own the land. Chiefs and others objected. Mr. Chrétien’s proposals were dropped.

Mr. Chrétien’s 1969 white paper still rings true. It says that to be an indigenous person is to be someone apart in law and provision of government services and to lack power, and that special treatment has made aboriginals disadvantaged.

I am far from an expert in aboriginal affairs, but I do wonder whether our reserve system has not worsened life for our first peoples. Would they be better off under a different régime — one in which they enjoyed equality under the law with their nonaboriginal fellow citizens, and no longer suffered under special treatment? Such a change should obviously not be imposed on our first peoples without their consent, yet something just as obviously needs to be done to facilitate their taking responsibility for their own communities' welfare and to free them from their crippling dependency on Ottawa.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Interesting comments, David. Last night I had a Facebook chat with one of our Smithville Christian High School alumni who has been working in Attawapiskat. Such challenging issues! How does a Canadian Christian begin to help bring about change? It doesn't seem to be about the money (alone...), and it can't be just about the government (alone...). We've tried both of those approached.


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