Over the past two weeks we have seen a lot of information come out with regards to the conditions in many of Canada’s Native Reserves because of the “Hunger Strike” by Attawapiskat’s Chief Theresa Spence and the media attention that she and the “Idle No More” protests have received.
While I discredit Spence’s complaints about her own reserve where she is the Chief due to the information that has recently been released with regards to their financial accountability, I think that the “Idle No More” group has helped shed light on a problem that faces Canadian reserves. What is the problem? It’s that money does not and will not solve problems without support and follow up.
Some people criticize the federal government for not giving enough money to reserves. Perhaps, in some cases, it is true. However, in many cases, it is not true. We only have to look at Canada’s health care and justice systems to prove that throwing money at a problem does not solve problems. In some cases, it makes it worse. In both of those systems innovators are seeking new ways of doing things so that we can better spend the money that we have and achieve better results.
It’s time for a Paradigm Shift.
I have spoken with many people who constantly tell me that Natives have it easy. That they receive a lot of money, that they are given free housing, free education, free health care, live tax free and should be able to make a choice to not drink, not smoke, not do drugs and live constructive lives.
To those people I often just shake my head and walk away. That thought is pure drivel, disrespectful and ignorant.
To those people that did not grow up on a reserve and who are not educated about what it can be like to grow up on a reserve, take a moment to consider what it might be like for some of them. (Let’s face it, some are very successful and some reserves do things right. Some. Not all and not many.)
As a child, you grow up in an environment where homes are destroyed because nobody has a respect for property. Your parents don’t care what happens and neither does the rest of your family because they don’t own their land or their home. You likely have several brothers and sisters and a lot aunts, uncles and cousins. Perhaps you are a girl and as you grow up you are sexually abused and assaulted by your family members. You may learn to speak your culture’s native tongue but you likely don’t learn a lot because you don’t care about school by the time you reach your preteen years. You are sexually active, you are drinking and doing drugs and already learning the same lifestyle that those around you have taught you. To be lazy, live off of the tax dollars you get at the end of the month and to not appreciate the things that you have.
I realize that the picture that I have painted is grim. It is likely a harsh picture and perhaps not the picture that most people will believe or even adopt. But in many cases, it is true. I grew up in Fort McMurray, Alberta which is surrounded by several reserves and there, these things happened on a regular basis.
So when you grow up with these things happening, how is it that you are expected to make a choice to get out or to be different? You cannot be different because you don’t understand that how you grew up was wrong. But it was. Because I didn’t grow up like that and many people that will read this did not grow up that way.
So instead of throwing more money at the problem, let’s create accountability and force reserves to change. I believe that we should not pay bands directly but instead we should give the money to the people and allow them to own land on their reserves. Bands, like towns and cities, should be given land that they can sell to members of their communities or build housing for them. But they should be forced to allocate a certain amount of land to sell to their people so that we encourage prosperity. Bands should be able to charge property taxes to their members and that is how they get enough money to operate. The money that is given to bands or natives should be watched closely and when it is abused it should either be cut off or those who abuse the money should be held accountable through legal prosecution and removal from their positions.
There are many other things we can do to encourage bands to be truly self sufficient and more importantly, provide a culturally focused area of living for their members. Is that not the purpose of reserves?
Let’s not get caught up in the politics of reserves. Let us, instead, focus on the moral obligations that we have. To help those who need it, to educate each other, to help future generations have a better quality of life and to ensure that we are holding each other accountable for what we do and how we do things.