IN DEPTH: ABORIGINAL CANADIANS|
The Natuashish healing strategy
From The National, Reporter: Peter Gullage | February 8, 2005
The headquarters for the Labrador Innu Healing Strategy is hundreds of kilometres away in Halifax where Health Canada, and Indian and Northern Affairs direct the healing strategy programs.
John Brown, the Atlantic regional director for aboriginal affairs, says the money spent by Ottawa is going where it should.
"We think all of the money goes directly to Innu healing. Some of it may be for things which are long-term or in the background and others which are more immediate and in the community. You know, for example, the Innu lobbied hard with the government of Canada to say … 'We'd like to be registered under the Indian Act, and we would like our communities to be reserves.' Well, you know, all of the work to do that is done in the background. It may not be apparent to the person on the street. But that's working on the long-term goals. Other things, such as detox or, you know, a mental health clinic or, you know, a teacher aide are things which are much more immediate to the community."
In the community, they can see there are not enough social workers, suicide prevention counsellors, and not enough help for those who want to finally escape the grip of alcoholism. In answer to that, the federal government points to what it is spending. Sarah Archer is Health Canada's regional director for aboriginal health.
"Certainly from a health perspective, I would say that all the money goes to healing for those communities. I mean, if we didn't have the healing strategy and if the government of Canada had not allocated in our case this year $5.5 million to support the healing strategy, the infrastructure, the programming wouldn't be there," Archer says.
Back in the woods where the treatment program is run in a tent, Prote Poker has an idea or two about where Ottawa's tens of millions are going, if not to Natuashish. He points to the federal government offices in Goose Bay that are home to a couple of dozen bureaucrats working on the strategy.
"We're an industry. That's the way I look at it. Our children are an industry. Our people are an industry. Everybody makes money from us, because of our misery. Health Canada for example, the Goose Bay office, that's how they set up and they paid the staff who are there, correctional centre," Proker says.
"All those people, sometimes I feel maybe they don't want us to get well. Maybe we're just an industry for all those people to get jobs, to get well-paid jobs for their people. It's hard to ignore, but that's the way I think because they don't want to see us get well. They make money from us.'
As for the missing parts of Natuashish, such as the safe house, the federal government wants it built. The issue is when.
"Partly it's discussions that have to occur. I mean, we have to agree what that would look like, and it was under discussion for quite some time, different views of what would be the purpose of a safe house, who would it be targeted towards, who would have authority to run it. I mean, there are a number of issues like that that had to be sorted out. So, yeah, sometimes the wheels grind a bit slowly, but they're grinding away," Archer says.
But it's not moving fast enough for the Innu. The Innu say they can run the social programs better, that they can't do any worse than the federal government.
Talks between Ottawa and the Innu leadership about handing over control are ongoing. Eventually it will mean the band council of Natuashish will direct social policy and millions of dollars.
The question is, can the band handle it? Suggestions of questionable spending practices, deficits and mismanagement of the money that comes from Ottawa for the band's operations means the band's money goes through third-party management. Outside accountants keep an eye on that money.
There's other money coming in as well. The Innu own part of an airline. The band council also owns half the town's store, the only place in the community to buy groceries, and, thanks to having the Voisey's Bay nickel discovery in the backyard, the band gets money from Inco. But where all this money goes is a secret.
After dodging repeated requests for interviews, we caught up with Natuashish band council Chief Simon Pokue after a meeting with federal officials in Goose Bay. He didn't have much to say about how the band council spends its money or why it's a secret. If anyone wants to know, he says, there will be a meeting in a few months.
"If anyone wants to find out where is the money spent, there's an AGM [annual general meeting] coming up. Anyone can come in and raise ... try to find out where is the money going, how is it spent. The AGM, that's where they can come in," Pokue says.
The money from Inco is supposed to be going into a trust fund. Instead, it rolls right in to the band council where Chief Pokue admits some of it is loaned out to staff and simply handed out to people in the community.
"We are entitled to that fund. We use it whenever we want. It doesn't say in the agreement, you can use these funds for ... but we will put some guidelines how that fund will be used once the trust fund is set up," Pokue says.
But the questions aren't just about the money. There are only two ways into this isolated northern town, by plane or by boat. Either way, smuggling in marijuana doesn't seem to be a problem.
One man told CBC News he knows how the drugs are brought in and how band council money finances the drug trade. He uses purchase orders from the band council and he gets his people to travel to Goose Bay to smuggle those drugs including alcohol and cocaine.
Affidavits obtained by CBC claim votes were traded for pot in the last band council election. The RCMP say they've only heard rumours. A shipping receipt obtained by CBC News shows who brought a large shipment of beer into the community. The signature belongs to one of the band councillors.
Simon Pokue says none of this is allowed. "Right now, my council is not selling any illegal substance. So if I do know, I would ask them. But I know there are some other community members in the community who are doing ... selling drugs, selling alcohol. I did raise that with the RCMP a number of times, but I cannot disclose or say but how it will be done."
Ben Michel is the Innu Nation president. For him, what's happening in Natuashish is no surprise.
"I think what happened here is that there was hope, you know. And it was too much of an embarrassment for the government, and it wasn't a well thought out plan as to how the problem ... the social problem of the people of Natuashish was going to be dealt with. It was a quick fix."
A quick fix, an expensive fix, and, for Ben Michel, it's expected.
"If you have a heroin addict and you give them a fix, they're all right until the need is there again. This is what's happened with the federal government and the Innu people in Natuashish, you know," Michel says. "The federal government is the person that provides. Money is not going to solve their problem. They have to solve their problems themselves. The people, if they don't want to help themselves, no matter how much money is being poured into any of those communities, the problem is not going to go away."
Total population of Canada: 31,414,000|
Total people of aboriginal origin: 1,319,890
North American Indian:
More than one aboriginal origin:
People of aboriginal origin living on reserve: 285,625
People of aboriginal origin living off reserve: 1,034,260
People of non-aboriginal origin living on reserve: 36,230
(Source: 2001 Census, Statistics Canada)
*includes people of a single aboriginal origin and those of a mix of one aboriginal origin with non-aboriginal origins