How utterly and depressingly predictable the scene Attawapiskatis is. It is one that is repeated year after year.
A television camera brings the third world conditions of a Canadian community into our homes. The story of abject poverty in Aboriginal communities becomes the flavor of the week on the countries editorial pages. We profess our collective revulsion that this can exist in our country. The government of the day declares that it has been spending a lot of money, so the situation must be someone else’s fault. But, they assure us, they are on the case, and will fix the problem immediately.
An Aboriginal community that no one has ever heard of, much less pronounce, sitting in a remote part of Canada. There’s no apparent reason for that small group of people to be there. There is no economy, no schools, no hospitals, and nothing for people to do except watch television, drink and do drugs. Yet, the people that live in these desolate places call it home.
That is because the Indian Act – a law of our Parliament as old as Canada itself – makes it excruciatingly difficult for Ottawa’s paternalistic iron grip of dependency to be loosened. The law stipulates that the “Reserve” is home, and being a member of that community entitles you to a life of being taken care of by Ottawa. Over time, generations of our fellow citizens have known no other way to live. And our perverted sense of “doing what’s right” for our fellow Canadians keeps them in emotional, financial, and psychological bondage.
The Indian Act and all it represents is truly a national disgrace. There are a few Aboriginal “leaders” that make a very healthy living off the status quo. So do an army of lawyers, consultants, bankers, and government bureaucrats. The “Indian industry” is big business. Politicians have every incentive to “manage” these files by continuing to throw money at it. The Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development alone spends $13 billion a year.
After six full years as prime minister, Stephen Harper has decided to meet national chiefs of the Assembly of First Nations. Like his recognizing the importance of China and India, better late than never, I suppose.
So here’s some free advice: Mr. Harper, why don’t you take your majority for a test drive on something really important? It is something that previous governments – whether they were Liberal or Progressive Conservative – never had the courage to fix. Something that is a real problem, not an imaginary one like spending billions for more jails for a lower crime rate. A problem, that if you demonstrate some statesmanship, could unlock the vast untapped potential of our national economy, save countless lives and fuel hope, and make us all even more proud to be Canadian?
Take a deep dive into this problem. Inject your full authority creating an aggressive reform agenda, beginning with the Indian Act. Expedite the settlement of treaties as the courts have told you must be done. And invest significantly in Aboriginal education and training. Like the rest of us, Aboriginal people thirst to be productive contributing members of our society. They want access to the same opportunities that the rest us of take for granted. They want – and are fully entitled to get – their freedom.