Thursday, November 24, 2011

The Attawapiskat scandal. It's not that simple......

The original blog post was written in November 2011. Events continue to unfold. I will add to it as we go. 

January 7 2013: IdleNoMore is turning into an international movement to agitate for aboriginal rights AND better treatment of Earth. Cheering loudly!

December 18 2012: Chief Theresa is now on hunger strike to protest the unilateral changes to the Indian Act bulldozed through by the Harper regime.

More on the real financial picture:

And then there is this:

The Huffington Post carried an article about the deplorable conditions in a Northern Ontario Cree village. The article was written by the local Member of Parliament, bless his heart.  Click on the link to read it.

Now in typical bleeding heart liberal fashion, my first reaction is to a) feel guilty, b) get outraged and want the government to rush up there and build some serious infrastructure already.

Then I remember 4 things.  
  • The sad tale of Davis Inlet/ Natuashish
  • Books about the original economy and lifestyle of Northern hunting peoples. Anthropologist Hugh Brody describes the life of Northern hunting societies on the brink of change, mostly through the words of the people. Living through winter in tents was part of life. Being limited to a reserve was not. The wonderful novel "Kiss of the Fur Queen" by Cree writer Tomson Highway depicts the first 6 years of his protagonist's life, in  a tent on the land, as quite idyllic. 
  • The works of Tsimshian author Calvin Helin on the devastation caused by long term dependency.
  • Our own tipi/log cabin years.
And I wonder if how much will be solved by  building houses and installing plumbing. The following remarks are more questions than comments.

I do not have the right to speak about the many-layered issues faced by dispossessed and abused people.
Daughter enjoying some non-running, outdoor water during the tipi years.
But I am qualified to speak about life without ready-made infrastructure. Been there, done it. Newsflash to city dwellers:
Outside of town limits the government does not make sure of taps with clean flowing water. That's why people in the Slocan valley get so excited about logging on the slopes above their water box. But we digress. The point is that lack of indoor plumbing in itself is not the end of the world and it does not have to be unhygienic. 
One can stay quite clean with buckets of water, and nobody dies from having to use an outhouse. In extreme cold slop buckets can be emptied into it.

Attawapiskat is in Northern Ontario. Surely there is lots of water around? If all else fails, is there clean snow to melt? We had to do that again just 2 years ago, when a combination of a low well and a broken pump meant no running water for a few months.  

So I have questions that are not answered in the article.
  • Where is the community's water source? Is it clean?
Pollution of water that is a people's life blood, now that is something I get excited about. Lack of taps, not so much.

Traditionally the land that is now the reserve was used as a gathering place in spring and summer, to make use of the fishing. During winter people would disperse in smaller groups to hunt and trap. 
  • How is the access to the larger area that was traditionally the people's land? 
  • Where is the tree line? (for log homes and fire wood)
  • Is anything left of the traditional hunter economy, the seasonal round on the land? 
  • Can parts of the traditional knowledge be salvaged before the elders die? Nobody is suggesting a return to pre-contact times, but we need the knowledge of all times.
After the original dispossession of land and the holocaust of epidemics aboriginal communities were further damaged by the decades of residential schools. The resulting mess is not going to be healed by throwing money at it. 

Sadly, the case of Davis Inlet/Natuashish illustrates this. A spanking new village in a location chosen by the people did little to solve the deep-seated problems of social dysfunction. 
The kids are still sniffing glue. The men are still beating up the women. I seriously doubt if paying more government-sponsored social workers would make much difference.

Of course Provincial and Federal governments have to stop passing the buck to each other, and have to sit down with First Nations to figure out ways to deal with the outdated Indian Act. Of course better housing in Attawapiskat is needed, yesterday. We are living on a stolen continent, and we owe these people. But then what?

(Aside to mr. Harper: how many homes could you have built with the money you spent on a silly military celebration yesterday? My Canada is NOT about parades.)

Unless communities start the tough process of healing from within, all the housing and plumbing in the world will be in vain. 
One elephant in the room is the burden of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, often multi-generational. People with brain cells missing cannot make sound decisions. FAS is certainly not limited to First Nations, but we can't pretend it is not there either, PC be damned. Read "The broken cord" by Michael Dorris, an excellent introduction to this problem.

There are bright spots on the horizon. The following links are to indigenous voices.

My favourite way of learning about temporary aboriginal life is this radio program. It uses humor to cut through any preconceptions, be they prejudice or romantic idealization. It bites.

As immigrant Canadians (meaning everyone who is not aboriginal) the best we can do is stand back in humility, and ask those who are doing the work of healing what we can do to support it.

And now, I have to go write my PM and member of Parliament...

1 comment:

Ien in the Kootenays said...

Hey, what happened to the comments? This post had quite a few and they disappeared.