We have been taught to “harden not your hearts” (Heb 3) but one has to wonder when you witness continual exploitation, how long it takes before such hardening is unavoidable
I’m talking about Canada’s aboriginal communities.
I have a long personal history with aboriginal communities going back to my childhood. I grew up next door to an aboriginal community and over the years have known members of many such communities right across the country. I have worked with and have enormous respect for what so many of my aboriginal brothers & sisters have accomplished in so many fields of endeavor.
The backdrop to such accomplishments is the political culture in the aboriginal communities. The one constant across Canada is the structure of the Chief and the Band Council as the administrative authority on the reserves. In many cases, there has been enlightened leadership that has led to stunning developments in community infrastructure, education, arts, health care and the whole gamut of societal structure. The entire community benefits from such development and the region benefits as well.
The regrettable contrast is where the opposite is the norm. The examples are far too prevalent and these are the situations that attract public attention, largely because of low standards in every area in which the developed communities excel. We hear the statistics every day – high incidences of suicide, addiction, incest, substandard living conditions and the list goes on and on.
Very often, one of the most significant determining factors is stewardship. There are far too many aboriginal communities in this country run by family dynasties. Employment in many of these small communities is limited to relatives of the Chief and his/her Band Councillors. Brothers, sisters, husbands, wives occupy all the senior administrative positions and their salaries can be enormous when taken in the context of the relatively small communities in which they live. Why is that family members of the Chief often can get good quality housing while non-relatives end up living in tar-paper shacks? Why is it that the Chief of a relatively small reserve can have a $100,000 summer home built and paid for by reserve funds?
The problem many times is that we have become so immersed in guilt over residential schools and other very real acts of abuse toward our aboriginal brothers & sisters that any criticism of their lifestyle and reserve management is labelled racism. There is no question but that our ancestors committed grievous errors in their treatment of our aboriginal population, but there must come a point in 2013 where we acknowledge mistakes were made, we offer apologies and we move on; otherwise, this tension never will be resolved and there are people on both sides who want it to continue so that the gravy train will roll on. Hundreds of millions of dollars, probably billions of dollars have been spent on trying to assuage the guilt promoted by those who benefit from it.
The recent example of the events in Ottawa surrounding the Chief of the Attawapiskat reserve in James Bay is an example of the morass that these issues have become. Each time legitimate questions were asked about the management of the Attawapiskat reserve, the immediate response was to accuse the questioner of being racist or accuse the government of being “on the attack” against the people of Attawapiskat. It appeared that those in the entourage surrounding the Attawapiskat Chief were either reluctant or afraid to address those questions/issues because they would show the colossal mismanagement happening in the community. When a federal auditor was appointed to help manage the reserve, he was kicked out because the community leadership was worried about what he would find. How many other aboriginal communities have had federal auditors/managers appointed because of mismanagement? I know personally of two.
But there’s more to the situation in Attawapiskat. The De Beers diamond mine operation in James Bay has spent hundreds of millions of dollars in building infrastructure in the area. A report in today’s National Post says that, “In 2012, contracts awarded to the [Attawapiskat] community were over $40-million.”
The response predictably from Attawapiskat will be that not enough is being done, not enough money is being given to the community and the mine is not good for the environment. Accountability for ALL of the money being received as a result of federal government grants and money from the mining company will be quickly shoved aside while treaty rights and land claim settlements are pushed to the fore. One must begin to wonder why, with all the money apparently going into the community from the mining company, federal grants are still even necessary?
Attawapiskat is the tip of the iceberg in terms of colossal mismanagement and abuse within too many aboriginal communities in this country. Guilt has been used as a hammer to discourage those who dare question reserve operations. Perhaps it’s time that the rest of us who are also citizens of this country get the answers we seek about stewardship and accountability.