"My house is a very fine house, with two cats in the yard, life used to be so hard . . ."
At home in Attawapiskat . . . courtesy CBC.ca
So it begins again, the political debates about why conditions are so bad on some reserves that other countries are offering to send aid . . . to Canada, and who’s to blame, what might constitute a solution to the problem of poverty in places like Attawapiskat, etc., etc. The situation in Attawapiskat is summarized by Charlie Angus, NDP MP for Timmins-James Bay in the Huffington Post, Politics Blog:
Within a day, the media coverage turned from humanitarian relief to a full out national exercise in a forensic investigation of the behavior of a desperately poor community. Where did the money go? Why was the Band hiding its finances? Why, questioned one reporter on national television, was such a poor community even "allowed" to have a hockey arena?
It did little to explain that the Band's financial statements were posted online. Or to point out that $50,000 per person divided over six years, works out to about $8,300 per person per year, less than 50% of what is spent on Non-Native people. Or that 80% of this funding is allocated for education, 10% for social programs, leaving a paltry 10% to maintain housing and deal with infrastructure.
All of this could be explained, but as one veteran politico used to tell me, "in politics when you're 'splaining, you're losing." (http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/charlie-angus/attawapiskat-reserve_b_1126595.html#s487209)
Charlie Angus, of course, is biased against the current Harper Government; it’s the nature of our political setup where the first-past-the-post party gets to govern and the rest get to oppose. The result historically has been that a raucous PR battle ensues, stories like Attawapiskat are spun left by one party, right by another until everyone has tired himself out, emergency help is given and the same-old practices are left in place to prepare the next disaster.
But “having said that,” it strikes me as unconscionable that our Prime Minister would jump so quickly to the feeding of old prejudices. An elderly lady in the local nursing home said something like this to me: “Those Indians just want us to pay and pay them all the time.” This is the sentiment that Harper’s questioning: “What did they do with all the money we gave them?” reawakened in many people. Never mind that for the lady in question, government Old Age Security and supplements provide her with more than double the average annual amount government expenditures provided to each Attawapiskat citizen.
The question all of us Canadians should be pondering is the nature of our treaty relationship to Canada’s Aboriginal people . . . today. Successive governments have failed to address these matters in a manner that provides a broad understanding of the significance of treaty relationships. It’s not surprising that non-Aboriginal Canadians are prone to making uninformed, erroneous judgments about situations like Attawapiskat, in this case that the 90 million dollar figure Harper put out there was a gift, that it was charity offered out of the goodness of our hearts, and that it was wasted.
Mike Holmes, the TV home inspection guru, recently described the housing provided on reserves as “junk.” I’ve lived on and around reserves enough to know that this is an apt description. Reserve housing is typically mass-produced on the cheap and along with the water, sewer and power infrastructure failures, conditions that wouldn’t be tolerated in the rest of the country are allowed to persist. It’s just one more way of telling children growing up in places like Attawapiskat that they don’t really matter that much.
Something is rotten in the state of