Pierre Trudeau and Jean Chretien had the right idea.

trudeau

It is a rare occasion when I agree with Trudeau or Chretien’s ideas on much of anything but way back in 1969 they addressed one of Canada’s most pressing issues in drafting a policy document called the “White Paper”. Unfortunately the lawyers, activists and other assorted parasites within the growing “Indian Industry” had already been entrenching themselves well and managed to exert enough pressure to get the Trudeau government to back off on a policy direction that would have worked towards bringing hundreds of thousands of people out of the misery of poverty, crime, health issues and general social dysfunction living racially segregated under Canada’s racist Indian Act.

Many activists within the Indian Industry speak against the Indian Act and demand that we adhere to treaties and the obligations within them. These same activists go utterly haywire when somebody actually proposes the abolition of the wretched Indian Act or points out that Canada already goes well and beyond the obligations laid out in treaties. The bottom line is that there is a large and well organized element of parasitic people who thrive on the horrific status quo of native affairs in Canada and these people fervently and effectively fight every possible effort to end their existence based on the misery of countless natives living in the horrific racially segregated enclaves that we call Indian reserves.

The Statement of the Government on Indian Policy is a relatively short (24 pages) document and is concise on the goals for changes to native policy and the means to reach those goals. I strongly recommend that this document be read from end to end.

I will highlight some parts from the document below. In the past and currently supporters of the status quo of native misery have predictably dismissed the document as racist and having no goal aside from assimilation. That as usual is utter garbage but the hot-words of racism never fail to quell rationed policy debate thus the shallow self-serving supporters of the Indian Industry never fail to claim racism whenever something may threaten their income from the system. The irony of it all is that the White Paper was explicitly working towards ending policies of racism in Canada.

Below is the preamble from the paper which gets to the gist of things:

 

Statement of the Government of Canada on Indian Policy, 1969
Presented to the First Session of the Twenty-eighth Parliament by the Honourable Jean Chrétien, Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development

 

To be an Indian is to be a man, with all a man’s needs and abilities. To be an Indian is also to be different. It is to speak different languages, draw different pictures, tell different tales and to rely on a set of values developed in a different world.

 

Canada is richer for its Indian component, although there have been times when diversity seemed of little value to many Canadians.

 

But to be a Canadian Indian today is to be someone different in another way. It is to be someone apart – apart in law, apart in the provision of government services and, too often, part in social contacts.

 

To be an Indian is to lack power – the power to act as owner of your lands, the power to spend your own money and, too often, the power to change your own condition.

 

Not always, but too often, to be an Indian is to be without – without a job, a good house, or running water; without knowledge, training or technical skill and, above all, without those feelings of dignity and self-confidence that a man must have if he is to walk with his head held high.

 

All these conditions of the Indians are the product of history and have nothing to do with their abilities and capacities. Indian relations with other Canadians began with special treatment by government and society, and special treatment has been the rule since Europeans first settled in Canada. Special treatment has made of the Indians a community disadvantaged and apart.

 

Obviously, the course of history must be changed. To be an Indian must be to be free – free to develop Indian cultures in an environment of legal, social and economic equality with other Canadians.

What is most striking is how even 40 years later, the statement above is just as valid as it was then. Today problems are much larger and more acute on native reserves though and until we change things they will only get worse.

Below are the policy recommendations of the paper. Native life would be so much different (and far better) had the Canadian government of the day stuck to it’s guns and implemented these policies.

 

1. that the legislative and constitutional bases of discrimination be removed;

 

2 that there be positive recognition by everyone of the unique contribution of Indian culture to Canadian life;

 

3. that services come through the same channels and from the same government agencies for all Canadians; 4 that those who are furthest behind be helped most;

 

5. that lawful obligations be recognized;

 

6 that control of Indian lands be transferred to the Indian people.

 

The Government would be prepared to take the following steps to create this framework:

 

1. Propose to Parliament that the Indian Act be repealed and take such legislative steps as may be necessary to enable Indians to control Indian lands and to acquire title to them.

2. Propose to the governments of the provinces that they take over the same responsibility for Indians that they have for other citizens in their provinces. The take-over would be accompanied by the transfer to the provinces of federal funds normally provided for Indian programs, augmented as may be necessary.

 

3. Make substantial funds available for Indian economic development as an interim measure.
4. Wind up that part of the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development which deals with Indian Affairs. The residual responsibilities of the Federal Government for programs in the field of Indian affairs would be transferred to other appropriate federal departments.

Race based policy created the abhorrent state that Canadian natives live in. Only through ending race based policy will we see an easing of the disaster that is our reserve system. While pointing out what is required is simple, actually getting to a racially blind system in Canada is anything but. With the passing of 40 years problems on native reserves have gotten far worse by every measure and Canada is no closer to implementing the simple measures that are absolutely required to work towards ending this misery.

Canada has known for over a generation what needs to be done with native affairs. The only question now is how horrific will things have to get in our system of racial apartheid before a government gets the courage to face-down the defenders of the Indian Industry and make the changes that must be made.

It is the 21st century and still Canada insists on maintaining racial segregation though the Indian Act. It is embarrassing and it is a disaster. Even Trudeau knew this. Alas, Trudeau chose to make the Charter his legacy instead of the abolition of the racist Indian Act in Canada.

 

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Get used to seeing it.

This happens every few years. A native reserve hit’s bottom due to a myriad of reasons and a news story comes out showing people living in deplorable conditions. The flavor this year is the Attawapiskat. A while back it was Kashechewan with their water troubles. Even earlier than that was the mess in Davis Inlet. We have seen other random images of reserves all over Canada in between and the pictures are almost uniformly ugly.

Fingers are being pointed in all directions. Government is pointing out how 10s of millions of dollars had been directed at the reserve from the government. The Chief is pointing wildly in every direction while trying very hard to avoid any form of audit or outside management. Advocacy groups are worked into a lather and blaming everybody they can see for the problems.

People are calling for more money to be spent. Some are calling for more or less self-government on reserves. Some are even calling for UN intervention.

What we are not hearing enough is people calling for an end to the entire reserve system!

Lets face it people. This entire concept of separating groups of people from society based on their race is utterly wrong and has been a colossal failure. By every measure reserve life falls short of off-reserve standards of living. With a few notable exceptions, pretty much every native reserve in Canada is a socio-economic mess rife with crime, poverty, domestic abuse, substance abuse and simply general misery (particularly on the more isolated reserves).

What did anybody really expect? Imagine anybody being born and raised on one of our isolated reserves and try to imagine how this hypothetical person would not be dysfunctional. Being born into a modern reserve now is to be immediately brought into a mess of dependency with a hybrid clashing of cultures. You are exposed to modern comforts and through television and the internet you can see what the world has to offer. You are raised with a sense of entitlement as you are told that anything and everything that ever goes wrong in your life is somebody else’s fault. Even should you have ambitions for more, there is little work to be found aside from working for the band itself. If you are not in the Chief’s inner circle of friends and family, you will likely not find band employment. You are in a massive cycle of utter dependency with no sense of purpose and no sign of a light at the end of the tunnel. Is it all that surprising that suicide and substance abuse run rampant?

People keep pointing to injustices of the past as if that somehow justifies our contemporary injustices. I will say it outright, yes the residential school policy and the attempted assimilation of natives was a horrific chapter in Canadian history. Those policies are directly responsible in many ways for the social dysfunction in native communities as entire generations lost touch with how to cope individually and as families. The damage is now being passed on to future generations despite the policy ending decades ago.

Stand back a bit and look at this folks. Try to set aside what you would like to see and see what simply is. Can you honestly look at an isolated native reserve and see a good future for people there? What do you envision in a generation from now? Two generations? Most of these reserves do not have the local resources to sustain their populations no matter how some may try to develop them. Do you think it is right that we keep a growing population in a location where complete dependency  on government is assured? Is that really a decent goal?

I have worked most of my life in the oilfield and have spent time on reserves throughout Canada’s North and West. Every year I see conditions becoming worse despite new programs and new spending constantly being applied. People may think that some form of cultural preservation is happening from this. What has formed is a unique but awful hybrid culture of people who no longer find themselves fitting in anywhere. Past cultural practices are being lost and a potato chip and television culture is replacing it. Is that a noble goal?

People do not need to live in their original nation in order to retain elements of their culture. Check out a Chinatown in any major city. Look to any Indian or even Eastern European communities and see how they still retain and celebrate their cultures despite being a  half a planet away from their places of origin. Sure these people have embraced and taken on aspects of Western culture. That is natural and it is a good thing.

Cultural evolution is not assimilation! No culture now is as it was 100 years ago and 100 years from now no culture will look quite like it does today. Cultures are not static things. They change and evolve with changing times and circumstances. Despite this, some feel that reserves will keep some sort of retroactive enclaves of noble indians who will resist change and stay as they were centuries ago.

Leave culture alone. Trying to artificially retain a culture is as abhorrent and wrong as it was trying to eliminate them.

The entire native issue has always frustrated me to no end as I work and see the misery first-hand every year and I see it getting worse. I am long on pointing out problems and unfortunately short on solutions with this one. Take a drive some time East or West and have a close look at our neighboring reservations. Look at the abandoned houses or even worse the occupied ones. Look at the wild dog populations and look at the garbage. Most importantly, look at how the people carry themselves. That is the most disturbing aspect of them all.

Race based policy is always wrong. It is race based policy that created the aboriginal mess that we have today and further race based policy is not going to fix it.

There are many ideas out there on how to reach an end to the reserve system. The most promising involve property rights. I understand that we can’t simply end the system and toss a dysfunctional population into mainstream society. We need to start looking to an end to this however.

We can talk about all sorts of spot fixes. Until one concludes that the reserve system must end however, they will not be looking at a sustainable long-term solution to anything. It is a sick system of racial segregation and everybody is losing native and non-native alike.

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