Aboriginal affairs: a way forward — or back? - Macleans.ca

Aboriginal affairs: a way forward — or back?

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Eden Valley Reserve, south-west of Calgary (Jeff McIntosh/AP)

We’ll be doing another one of those CPAC “In Conversation With Maclean’s” events Wednesday night in Winnipeg. The subject this time is “First Nations in Canada: Is There a Way Forward?” Colleague John Geddes and I will join a formidable panel of experts. Here’s Manny Jules from the First Nations Tax Commission. Shawn Atleo will join us. Charlene Lafreniere is a city councillor in Thompson, the city with the largest aboriginal population share in Canada. Here’s a bit about what they’re up to in Thompson.

One thing I’ll be asking our guests is whether they discern any momentum in federal efforts to address the huge problems facing Canada’s aboriginal populations. The story from the Harper government this year is a decidedly mixed bag. As I noted in an optimistic column last December, annual growth in federal transfers to First Nations governments for basic services has been capped at 2% since the mid-90s. Last month’s budget didn’t touch that cap. It provides less for aboriginal education than the department will be made to cut in its internal spending, and less for housing than the government provided in the 2009 budget. Legislative changes to improve governance and financial transparency will go ahead. They may make a greater difference than any funding decision. How can we tell? The feds are diligently making it harder. The budget quietly cut off funding for the First Nations Statistical Institute and the National Aboriginal Health Organization. Soon it will be easier to claim progress without fear of contradiction. We’ll discuss whether that’s really progress.

Of course, this file is so complex that things are rarely what they seem. Will Shawn Atleo decry the shuttering of the National Aboriginal Health Organization? Maybe not: the AFN has never supported NAHO because the latter takes (sorry, took) a “pan-aboriginal” perspective. We’ll try to untangle such considerations in Winnipeg. Watch us on TV or online, or come on out if you’re in town.

(John Geddes gives a preview of the discussion here.)


Aboriginal affairs: a way forward — or back?

  1. Frederick Douglass ~ “What shall we do with the Negro?” I have had but one answer from the beginning. Do nothing with us! Your doing with us has already played the mischief with us. Do nothing with us! If the apples will not remain on the tree of their own strength, if they are wormeaten at the core, if they are early ripe and disposed to fall, let them fall! I am not for tying or fastening them on the tree in any way, except by nature’s plan, and if they will not stay there, let them fall. And if the Negro cannot stand on his own legs, let him fall also. All I ask is, give him a chance to stand on his own legs! Let him alone! 

  2. Maple Leaf Web ~ Native Social Issues:
    While Canada routinely ranks in the top ten of the United Nations Human Development Index (HDI) – a quality of life indicator based on income, education and life expectancy applying the same criteria to Canada’s aboriginal population reveals some striking figures. Registered Indians living on reserves are ranked approximately 68th, somewhere between Bosnia and Venezuela, while off-reserve Indians are ranked 36th.

    Library Of Economics:
    “Gary S. Becker received the 1992 Nobel Prize in economics  …. Becker showed that discrimination will be less pervasive in more competitive industries because companies that discriminate will lose market share to companies that do not. He also presented evidence that discrimination is more pervasive in more-regulated, and therefore less-competitive, industries.”

    Would love to be there in person, but will follow it from here.   Suggest you check up on the TRC when you’re there too — will someone from the Commission be on the panel?
    Recently, a compeitition closed across Canada for an institution to house the National Research Centre — a physical and digital “place” mandated to house all the docs from the TRC.  Many restricted, confidential docs; many docs to be made public — all extremely sensitive.  Whichever institution would win the competition had to be able to prove the ability to fund and make accessible this archives in perpetuity for future researchers.  However no funding at all will come from the federal government.  And at this time, no archival institution in Canada can truly claim to have a secure digital system in place.
     No idea who will win that competition; the institution I was working with at the time decided  there was not adequate time to develop a proposal or to study potential collaborations.  It seems that LAC — probably the most likely place to preserve the archive — did not compete either. 
    How much does this federal government care about Aboriginal issues?  Not enough to put its money where its mouth is — the “apology” seems to have been empty rhetoric (but got lots of good press)!  And the way harper and his minion Indian Affairs minister misspoke about the housing situation in Attiwaskipat last fall was disgusting. 

    • “put its money where its mouth is”    I’d say TRC costs going from $3.2 bilion to over $5 billion (and counting) says a lot.

      • I’d say this, plus your subsequent posts below, say a lot. 

      • “TRC costs”? You are (wrongly) conflating the TRC with the IAP.

        • You are right of course – IAP and Common Experience Payment, but the Commission costs have gone up as well.

  4. “Legislative changes to improve governance and financial transparency will go ahead. They may make a greater difference than any funding decision.”
    If they can get this passed it will change everything.  The way some of the chiefs treat their own people, African dictators look good.
    Fake flood evacuee lived in Winnipeg home
    Chief mum on ballooning evacuee stats
    Ottawa, not Manitoba, on hook if any claims are fraudulent
    Mess of B.C. aboriginal band’s books highlights need for financial literacyhttp://www.chbcnews.ca/canada/mess+of+bc+aboriginal+bands+books+highlights+need+for+financial+literacy/6442588904/story.html  

  5. What’s the use of giving them more money for education when they don’t make the kids go to school?

    “HOBBEMA – Vern Saddleback recently met a 10-year-old who has never been to school a day in his life.

    On Samson Cree First Nation, there are hundreds of children who stay home, wander about town or play video games without a teacher even noting their absence.

    There are 2,760 children aged five to 18 on the membership books of the reserve, said Saddleback, but only 1,579 students, or 57 per cent, are on the list that school administrators give to Indian Affairs to cover education costs.”


  6. It is a shame that Martin Patriquin won’t be joining you and Mr. Geddes on the panel.  His article describing life in Pikangikum really reflects how very complex this situation is.  Arguing over which side is at fault is preposterous when young children are so addicted to sniffing gasoline that they will trade a can of it for sex.
    Will those of this generation who do not end their own lives prior to becoming parents, take on that responsibility well?  Not likely, as they have not had good role models and if nothing changes, they will continue to live hopeless lives in horrid conditions.
    I hope Mr. Wells you will ask questions of the governments progress and Mr. Atleo’s plans to empower his people by giving them education in how to care for their communities.  Surely, carpenters, plumbers mechanics and other trades people could be sent to communities to provide education on how to do maintenance work necessary to provide upkeep in a community. 

    • They do send trades people, yet it seems they don’t have their own?   This whole situation is beyond me.  MP’s article was very well done – that comment about kids committing suicide “because they are bored” is one I have read many times about many remote reserves.

      “In partnership with Attawapiskat First Nation and Mushkegowuk Council, Mennonite Central Committee Ontario has received an invitation to continue work on housing in the community of Attawapiskat First Nation, on the shores of James Bay.

      MCC Ontario is sending small teams of certified tradespeople for two week periods beginning in February. Teams will work under local leadership in setting up modular homes and learning about the first peoples who welcomed them there. This is an MCC project, with the support of Mennonite Disaster Service. MCC volunteers first began working in Attawapiskat in 1981.”

      • I am not talking about send trades people to do all the work.  I am talking about sending skilled people to TEACH the people on the reserves how to do the work properly.  That way, they would have their own trades people.  Also, they could have a library of ‘how to” books.  You don’t have to be ticketed in a trade to be knowledgable and handy but if different trades came and taught young/old, maybe some would decide they actually wanted to apprentice.  There is a great sense of achievement in learning a skill and then doing it well yourself.  Practical education and skills could go along way to alleviate boredom.

        • That is what is beyond me, that they don’t seem to have trades people that know how to fix things. 

          • Then I guess you’re one of those non-aboriginals who NAHO was trying to educate.  Too bad; now you’ll never find out.

          • What does NAHO have to do with trades people?

            Geez P – I’m all for FN, but even more for weeding out the corrupt ones that feed on their own people. 

          • Le_o: The issues are of course extremely complex.  I have recently been fortunate to work with an aboriginal health research organization and been impressed with what they are trying to do, and the broader perspective they take to develop multidisciplinary approaches to improving health outcomes.  I find them innovative, and believe that it’s good to take steps to learn other perspectives and proposed solutions for complex issues. 

            All I know is the traditional solutions imposed for years aren’t working well. 

            Perhaps I misread your comments but I thought you were being paternalistic when you wrote, “what’s the use of [us] giving them money for education when they don’t send their kids to school.” And “they don’t seem to have tradespeople that know how to fix things.” 

          • Wait a minute now, according to Mr. Wells the Assembly of First Nations “has never supported NAHO” either so it is more than a little disengenous to suggest that the decision to defund the NAHO was done against the wishes of all aboriginals.

          • You are right Leo.  They are lacking mentors to teach them and give them confidence.  Jack Layton was right to want to give the children hockey equipment but they also need mentors and coaches to organize their pickup games and give them encouragement to keep playing.  I am sure there are artisans, musicians, writers in these communities…all with a passion waiting to be unleashed but they too need mentors to encourage them.

  7. I’m having trouble parsing this: “federal transfers to First Nations governments for basic services has been capped at 2% since the mid-90s”

    Is that 2% of something (if so, what), or is it a 2% increase, or is it something else?

    • Annual increases have been capped at a 2% rate of growth.

    • Good catch. I added the missing “Growth in…”

  8. The obvious question is, exactly why is it the government of Canada’s job to do anything about the huge problems facing Canada’s aboriginal populations? Why can’t they address their own problems like I do? For a group that wants “self government”, they sure seem to need a lot of “taking care of”.