Playing the Indian Card

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Attawapiskat and the Wonders of U-Haul

Location, location, location.
It has been a long time since I liked Jean Chretien. Long ago, he was fun to listen to, and seemed to speak from the heart. Then he became prime minister, and never said an honest thing again. But like Bill Clinton, or indeed Pierre Trudeau, he is better out of office. The old Chretien is back. He is freer to say what he thinks.

Eleven young people in the remote Cree community of Attawapiskat were overheard recently planning a joint suicide. This has electrified the country. The Commons has been in a five-hour emergency debate. In it, Chretien has been criticised for suggesting to an interviewee that it might be best for some young residents of Attawapiskat to move, “like anybody else.”

Good God. What a racist. Assuming that Indians are “like everybody else.” Niki Ashton, the NDP critic on Indian Affairs, accused Chretien of being an “assimilationist.” "First Nations people and many people who work in solidarity with First Nations people know that these views are unacceptable,"

Clearly, assimilation has become a bad word. So much for open debate on what is really in the best interests of Indian people.

Ashton sees the problem as, of course, entirely the fault of people born with white skin. Who must pull out their wallets to assuage their guilt. Not that it will ever end.

"… this didn't just happen. In fact, the trauma that is apparent through suicide crises across Canada is the direct result of our history of colonization and decades of racist policies passed through this House."

Her solution, inconsistently, is to demand continued colonialism. That is what Attawapiskat is—a colony, where the inhabitants are kept apart, cared for by distant others, and given no responsibility over their own lives.

New school going in, thanks to federal government. Not residential.

Ashton then identified the Indian Act as the core of the problem: "a piece of legislation that is the symbol of colonialism."

"This piece of legislation and the way it is imposed on First Nations is deeply connected to the oppression that exists today."

Funny, that. Chretien is the great opponent of the Indian Act. His second cabinet portfolio was as Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development. He took the brief so much to heart that he and his wife adopted an eighteen-month old Inuit (Eskimo) boy--an act of kindness and common humanity that would probably not be permitted to a “white” family today. Hardly, of course, in the best interests of Indian orphans, but the individual must always be sacrificed to the group. He was the sponsor of the famous proposal, in the 1969 Indian Affairs White Paper, to end the Indian Act and make Indians full Canadian citizens. The Indian leadership, of course, rose as one to oppose it. The last thing they wanted was equality.

Attawapiskat is remote; probably one of the world's remotest communities. There are no jobs; there is little to do; there is seventy percent unemployment. Vegetables, fruit, building materials, and just about everything else has to be flown in at great expense. Nothing but life is cheap. Professionals, teachers, doctors, nurses, dentists, opticians, pharmacists, naturally consider it a hardship post; few want to come and fewer want to stay.

Why wouldn't any sane person move, or counsel moving? Is suicide really better?

Fibre optics cabling going in at Attawapiskat, for better Internet reception.

Here we see graphically the essential problem with Indian culture. Chretien, who with his background knows more about the problem than most, nails it: “they are traditional. ... They are nostalgic about the past when they were going hunting and fishing ...” Indian culture is extremely conservative, extremely traditionalist, extremely isolationist.

This is why Indians are highly resistant to leaving their reserves. But at the same time, this is what keeps them immersed in this culture, which is driving them to suicide.

The solutions now proposed are mostly about funneling more taxpayer money into the community. According to Ontario Regional Chief Isadore Day, as reported in the National Post, “Nothing can change significantly until governments stop controlling the flow of money going to troubled First Nations.” So the solution is to hand unlimited money to Indian leaders, and ask no questions about where it goes.

It is not just the chiefs. A group of local teenagers have joined in the sport. They have drawn up a list of new facilities they feel they need in the community to convince them not to kill themselves. They want a clean swimming pool, a movie theatre with six screens, a meeting with the prime minister, and a casino.

If the same money were just handed to them, instead of going to building these facilities, they would probably be quite well off. The problem is, they would then have to make personal decisions and shoulder personal responsibilities. It's more fun to get presents.

Attawapiskat First Nations band office. National seat of government?
Most of the population is already living on welfare. The government has supplied a grade school, a high school, a hospital. The young people's list of what they already have includes a local radio station, a gym, an arena, a soccer field, a baseball field, a rink. My wife comes from the Philippines, by world standards a middle income, not a poor, country. I can tell you, any Filipino town of under 2,000 with those facilities would think they had died and gone to heaven. The rest of the population is paying a lot to preserve the local Cree in their traditionalism, even though it is probably not in their own best interests. It might be better to cut off the flow of easy cash and make the choice plainer.

Instead, of course, the government will spend more money. Spending more money is the ideal solution for bureaucrats. The last thing they want is to solve a problem. That would mean no more money. Eighteen highly-paid mental-health professionals have been flown in, and are to be on twenty-four hour call, in response to the eleven threatened suicides. The highly-paid professionals will probably do nothing to benefit the Cree: their presence does not address the underlying problem, if it is cultural conservatism, and it is highly debatable whether the “mental health” system ever helps anybody. But a lot of taxpayer money will be spent, and will be seen to be spent, albeit into the pockets of already rich people, the highly paid professionals, of the same class as the bureaucrats. So that achieves the intended goal. The Cree kids are happy, because they are being given lots of attention and being taken care of. They may try this suicide thing again.

Interestingly, the first suggested action the young people came up with in their brainstorming session in terms of making things better was not actually to do with more governmnet money, but to “Stand up against bullying and etc.” “And etc.”? Are they being coy? Is there something here they are worried about making too explicit? When interviewed, one seventeen-year-old was a little more forthcoming. She said the bullying was not from other kids, but from adults. “Something happened to me when I was a kid,” she added, “but I don't want to talk about it."

It looks as though for some, perhaps most of the kids who were thinking of suicide, the real issue was child abuse. It makes sense, Isolated community. No police post. Little to do.

The solution is obvious: send them all to residential schools in more central locations.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I couldn't resist commenting. Well written!