What's the solution to communities such as Attawapiskat: more money or new ideas?


On Cross Country Checkup: Attawapiskat

When the Red Cross was called in to Attawapiskat, the misery was displayed for all to see.

Now as many scramble to assign blame, it becomes clear that there are a hundred other communities in similar condition.

What's the solution: more money or better ideas?

With host Rex Murphy.

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Today we want to talk about how to improve the conditions in some of the remote native communities across the country.

This past week the glare of publicity fell on Attawapiskat, a community of less than 3,000 souls on the Ontario shore of James Bay. We saw scenes of families crowded into ramshackle shacks and tents with little heat and no plumbing, in sub-zero temperatures. The Red Cross was called in to provide relief -- sleeping bags and tents.

It's not isolated: conditions of this kind in aboriginal communities are widespread, and there are probably as many as a hundred other communities in similar condition in northern regions across this country.

The opposition in Parliament was quick to point the finger of blame at the government for ignoring the plight of the people in Attawapiskat. But the government responded by revealing that they've spent $90-million dollars on the community since 2006, and now they are placing it under third-party management.

What do you think about this? What was your reaction to the news and the pictures from Attawapiskat? What about the fact that there are roughly a hundred other communities across the country in equally bad condition?

Do you blame anyone for this, or does playing the blame game only make it harder to find a permanent solution?

Some say the government is underfunding these communities? Others say the communities are getting plently of money but they are not managing to their best advantage.

Is accountability a problem? Or, is tight government control through the aboriginal affairs department in effect preventing the communities from developing properly?

Our topic today: "Attawapiskat: What could help? What will change things?

I'm Rex Murphy, on CBC Radio One, and on Sirius satellite radio channel 159, this is Cross Country Checkup.




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In all the discussion, finger pointing and calls for more money or more accountability, I wonder how other First Nations are responding. Are the other First Nations sending aid? Surely those who have successfully negotiated land claim settlements and those with Casino profits have the means to help their peers in more remote locales.

Perhaps one key question is whether these can ever be viable communities. Consider how many strikes are against them: Few productive jobs, Global warming and it's effects on the permafrost, Decline in traditional hunting and fishing and young people intending to live in traditional ways, High cost of utilities, groceries, raw materials, medical and dental care, and just about everything 21st century people want. Mind you, perhaps this isn't about viable communities as much as it is about Arctic sovereignty! If the Canadian government wants these remote communities to show the world that we're living there, then come clean and put them all on the government payroll!

Dave Catton
Princeton, British Columbia

John Riley, an Alberta judge, recently published the non-fiction tome 'Bad Medicine' and the pages fairly shrieked that the books should be open.... not only on the reserves, but in the dealings of the Canadian government as well.  Judge Riley travelled to reserves for years and gives so many examples in his book. And while Canadians are being told about the world-wide economic problems, I would love to point out, as someone who grew up in Fort McMurray, and has also lived in Norway, a country with masses of oil, that by law, the government of Norway's books are open and the oil companies who deal there must have their books open. Norway takes about 65% or more of the profits the oil companies make and puts it in a pension fund so that many more generations of Norwegians will enjoy the hundreds of billions of dollars that have been deposited in about 20 years.

Norway enjoys a wonderful quality of life, all from a portion of the interest the pension fund generates. We have to look beyond what we are told. We don't even have free trade amongst our provinces.

Attawapiskat? We should learn a hard lesson from this and open all public purse books. In Norway, being homeless is illegal. The police assume you need help and you get help. And officials are actually accountable. We can do so much better.

Rhondda Tolen
Victoria, British Columbia

Last evening I watched a "Life & Times" about Farley Mowat that was filmed in 1997. In 1947 he wrote the Federal Gov't about Iuit people who were starving to death; he was eventually fired for this; the gov't denied in Parliament that these people existed. His book about the situation (The People of the Deer) bear evidence of light given to the problems, but we have continued for more than half a century (or more?) to ignore our citizens.

Shirley Schuurman
Tilsonburg, Ontario

With regards to conditions on reservations, I feel that there is a complete mismanagement of funds. There has to be some personal responsibility by the people on reserves. I am capable and responsible for operating and maintaining my home, and that is without any funds given to me by the government. If I am unable to make money where I live, it is my responsibility to chase work down. That may even mean having to move in order to do that.  There has been large amounts of money funneled to these reserves, and plenty of opportunity to advance.  So when blame is passed around, I for one am not going to be made to feel guilty about it. I wish the best for the people suffering, however they are going to have to be the largest part of solving the problem. 

Dustin Schmidt
Westerose, Alberta

One thing you never hear is a question about how much $98 million really is. The community is said to have 2000 people and $98 million over five years is only $49000 per person. That's not a lot - less than $10000 per person per year.

I am a member of an Indian Band and there are certainly problems with housing - as a hangover of the patriarchal system imposed by the Indian Act, a lot of reserve residents don't know the value of their homes and how to take care of them. There are very serious money management issues throughout Aboriginal communities - there is a real "living in the moment" mentality. It ties in to household finances and care of assets. Fortunately, Nak'azdli Band is getting better every year and that says a lot considering so many First Nations are going no where.

I feel bad about the Bands living in the north - they seem to have it very bad - especially in northern Manitoba, Ontario and Saskatchewan. But there are a lot of good stories too - it might be beneficial to have a show on those stories as well.

Nicholette Prince
Fort St. James, British Columbia

Considerable progress between all involved, aboriginal, federal and provincial authorities, had been made with the Kelowna Accord just before Stephen Harper became Prime Minister. It was one of the first things that were abandoned by the new Conservative government. If further evidence were needed of the level of importance of aboriginal affairs to the government, it lies in the fact that more than six years later the Prime Minister is only now meeting with the national aboriginal leadership.

Jim Muldowney
Edmonton, Alberta

I am quite surprised at the sudden uproar over the conditions on this reserve. Conditions on reserves have been horrendous for years, be it inadequate housing, undrinkable water, excessive suicides and substance abuse. Money has been handed out to these reserves for years but with little improvement in conditions. Somehow this money is not well-spent, no accountability of spending is given.
It is a shame that the government seems so surprised at the living conditions on the reserves. They just throw money at the problem and walk away, thus easing their conscience. The government should be ashamed that it was the Red Cross and not they who first responded to this crisis. Ottawa should be first up in aid for our native people. In the future, the government should monitor the spending of every cent which they give to the reserves, thereby insuring the proper living conditions of our native people. The true measure of an individual or government is how they treat the most vulnerable in society: the young, the disabled, the poor, the aged and our native people.

Kelly Kirkman
Lasalle, Ontario

First Nations need to bring forth Aboriginal Laws in the aboriginal languages. We need to have jurisdiction over our political, education, spiritual, economical and health programs.Our languages and cultural teachings will need to be taught to all members of the communities and that the languages be operating at the same level as they were before European contact.This will only happen if the First Nations are able to get the full funding from the Treasury Board. No more being wards of the government as the federal government uses our treasury funds for the running of the department of Indian Affairs.

Eli Baxter
London, Ontario

The paternalistic attitude of what can we do must change. The first question is what can and must the First Nations people do to effect change and to improve the situation for all First Nations people in this country. I honestly think it is time to get rid of the reserve system: particularly those Reserves that are so totally isolated that there is no hope of having jobs, a decent education or decent health care. 

The First Nations people are the stakeholders they know what needs to be done and it is time to put everything on the table and renegotiate rights, entitlements and federal responsibility.   

One of the proudest moments of my life was when I had the privilege of attending the opening ceremonies of the Olympic Games in Vancouver in 2010. The First Nations hosts were outstanding and the First Nations involvement in the opening ceremonies was one of the most amazing and powerful presentations I have ever watched. The First Nations peoples exposed their hearts and souls to this country and to the world. Their passion for their culture and more importantly for Canada was overwhelming. The time has come for the federal government to develop a sustainable plan for the future of our First Nations people  - with First Nations involvement. Change is absolutely required.  Throwing more of taxpayer's money at social problems and building new houses does not effect change. It maintains paternalism and dependency. The First Nations people need to work towards a prosperous future for themselves and for all of Canada.

Barbara Morgan
Fort Frances, Ontario

When Margaret Thatcher allowed people living in council houses in the UK to own these houses, they began to take much greater care of them, and take pride in their appearance. Surely some measure of property rights could be inserted into the Indian Act - it might make people living on reserves here in Canada take greater care of their houses and thus improve their standard of living.

Nancy Cote
Montreal, Quebec

I think that  a radical change is required in policy at the highest level of government in Canada.  A new focus on internal matters in Canada is desperately required - a focus on infrastruture of all kinds in Canada including that of Aboriginal communities. We are a relatively small country in economic terms; we are way down the list of countries in terms of GDP per capita (about 20 th), and we are not a "world power." Therefore, we should severely cut back on our overseas adventures such as those of the military and we should redirect the billions of dollars needed for sustaining and improving our domestic infrastructure: Aboriginal and otherwise.

Peter Eglington
Ottawa, Ontario

I lived in Fort Albany and Moose Factory on the James Bay Coast until this year. I feel that there is a sense of blame towards the Attawapiskat band. One of the callers asked why they made the choice to live there. I want to remind listeners that it was not their choice. The Native people were forcibly removed from their lands and placed in reserves by government policy, and forced to attend residential schools which destroyed their language and culture. Also, the government's emphasis on the 90 million dollars gives the impression that the band mismanaged the funds, but these funds were for health, education, and everything else, not just housing. I know from my time teaching in Moose Factory that the reserves are chronically underfunded.

Lindsay Paquin
Timmins, Ontario

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