The Attawapiskat crisis has revealed how frigid and abrasive and suspicious the exchange between native leadership and Canadian authorities still is.

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Stale Scripts

Thursday, December 8, 2011

In 2008 there was an unprecedented ceremony of reconciliation in Parliament, when it seemed we were marking a new moment in relations between Canada and its native peoples. The occasion you’ll recall was the residential school scandal.

But this week, I could scarcely remember if we have had that moment, or if we did, that despite its high ceremony, the deep attention it received, or even the words of Phil Fontaine who was so eloquent that day, it has made even the slightest difference.

Certainly what we have been hearing this week hasn't sounded very much like reconciliation or respect - from either side.

Instead, what has emerged - judging from the voices we have heard, and the tone of those voices - is evidence of how frigid and abrasive and suspicious the exchange between native leadership and Canadian authorities still is; how much, both sides seems to cherish the old confrontational accusational style. 

The bands coalesce in righteous blame, the government takes on an injured tone, the band chief in Attawapiskat seems to own no responsibility except to play the injured party – everyone plays their scripted part. 

Precisely such stale and scripted attitudes have brought us to the same place as before, have given us, in the past Davis Inlet, Kashechewan, numerous heartbreaks and tragedies on reserves and now this latest in that long sad pattern.

The heart of the situation, as I see it, is that almost every Canadian has a profound desire that relations with native peoples could be really repaired. That the brittle tensions, awkward exchanges, hesitant invitations, the whole extremely sensitive package - could be swept away and an adult respectful coming together for a common purpose take their place. 

There is more active and latent goodwill on repairing the conditions of native Canadians than there is on any other issue whatsoever in the Canadian political landscape. I seriously believe it is the profound wish of the majority - native and non-native alike - to resolve this issue once and for all.

However, the atmosphere of stalemate, hearing the same things after every particular crisis on some reserve, seeing in each crisis an almost exact repetition of the last one. Seeing the same patterns of shouting and finger-pointing, till the issue fades away, is wearying.  More, it is dangerous.

It may be pushing Canadians to a more distant or detached attitude on the issue. For it is the public's good will and its fervent hope that accommodations can be made, the rift healed, that is the greatest lever we have to solve this profound problem.

The decrepit houses, shameful as they are, are the simplest things to fix; but housing is not the real problem.  It is the great distance, physical and psychological, still, between aboriginal and non-aboriginal, settler and native, the raw pride of an injured people coming up against the stumbling, timid, periodic attempts by Canadian authorities to half-mend an enduring wound. 

The immediate crisis in Attawapiskat could as easily serve as an opportunity to do the deep right thing, as an occasion to play again the old scripts. Some of the spirit of that day in June 2008, would go a long way to turning so sad a state of affairs finally around.

For the National, I'm Rex Murphy.