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.