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.

6 thoughts on “Get used to seeing it.

  1. You’re absolutely right, Cory.
    I wish this would be fixed properly within my lifetime – I’d love to see it, and regret that I don’t have the solution either.
    But this debacle took a long time to evolve into what it has become; it will take an even longer time to repair.
    “Most importantly, look at how the people carry themselves. That is the most disturbing aspect of them all.” This is so true…what a tragedy…

  2. Absolutely right Cory! There is a belief that the reserve system is helping to preserve a culture and distinct society, while all it does is retard the occupants who are not evolving fullly with society around them; however, not every aspect of the reserve is holding back modern society. Crystal meth is an equal opportunity destroyer! Reserves have been rewarded with all the negatives of evolution, and none of the positives.
    Working in the arctic, I was amazed a number of years back at the attempt of some misguided advocates to prevent the approval of the Mackenzie Valley Pipeline because it would destroy the culture and traditional way of life of aboriginal people in the arctic. They just don’t get it! Drugs, despair and lack of hope are destroying a way of life much faster. All that isolation does is remove opportunity to have a purpose. You cannot legislate preservation of culture! Evolution will chart its own course, just as the age of enlightenment took humankind out of the dark ages.

  3. You nailed it on the culture thing. Why not turn back the clock and come up with some kind of homesteading plan that settled the west? It would take some tweaking and training but would give a hand up more than a hand out.



  4. I’ll tell you what I see – I see a concocted grief industry CBC video blub on the wretchedness these people live in. I seen in that news segment they didn’t do their politically correct editing job. I see satellite dishes and 50″ plasma TVs in unheated plywood shacks. I also see an $80,000.00 Cadillac SUV parked out front of one shack (unless the CBC aristocracy had one air freighted in at taxpayer expense for the use of their gibbering mediocrity journos).

    This spoke loudly to me as to what the real problem is.

    I see 3 levels of government pump $34 million a year into a community of 2800. I see that gives each resident an entitlement disbursement of roughly $12,000 a year so a family of 4 is existing on $48,000 a year – a good working wage down south. However even with this ample amount of money in the community I see infrastructure like plumbing, electricity, central heat and winterized housing to be in sad disrepair – yet I see expensive TVs, cars and other non-essential luxury items.

    First, natives have a right to live the native traditional life in traditional native wilderness areas. They do not have a “right” to my hard earned money for doing nothing or pissing away revenue on corrupt officials and toys instead of food shelter and security for their kids. I see the grief industry whipping up public guilt over this self indulgent abomination but offering no solution to end these people’s eternal wretched existence.

    I agree with one aspect of your argument Cory. The time to just keep throwing money at this problem is over. If throwing money at the problem was a solution these would be the most prosperous people in the nation. I think the blame for the wretchedness of their existence lies with no one other than themselves and their leadership. It’s time for first nations to grow up and stop playing the roll of wretched reliant children of the nanny state. It’s also time for the state to make first nations leadership responsible/accountable to A) their own people and B) any public entity which funds the mechanism of attaining self-reliance. It’s time we set a course and timeline to get first nations fully off the public teat and fully self-governing and self-reliant.

  5. I agree that the culture itself is worth saving, but we see lots of cultures in Canada that continue to hold onto their unique identity without requiring segregation from the rest of Canada.

    I understand that the Natives want the right to self govern, but Theresa Spence is a prime example of why that system doesn’t work.

    When you are spending $12 million dollars a year in a community of 2000 people, its like the City of Calgary having a payroll of $6,000,000,000.

    Now Theresa who has been caught in a couple of blatent lies about travel expenses and other expenses is trying to cloud the issues behind the disaster because it seems like she doesn’t want 3rd party management.

    The bottom line is that the government does have to react to the disaster there and save those people, but at the same time instead of a third party manager, it seems like there needs to be a RCMP investigation into the use of public funds.

    The community can’t have a failure of education except they used educational funds to build a new rink and buy a Zamboni, The community cannot have infrastrure issues and housing issues unless those funds are going somewhere else.

    And the NDP MP who’s been sitting on the problem there for years waiting for maximum political leverage is a failed human being.

    The whole situation is sad and tettering on unfixable now.

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