Hot! End native apartheid

NationalPost.com – news
Dec. 1, 2011.   Tasha Kheiriddin, National Post

When NDP MP Charlie Angus posted video of the squalid living conditions in Attawapiskat, what struck me most were the children. A boy of 10, his face covered in a scabbing rash. Four children under the age of five, living in an uninsulated tent. A trio of small children, staring vacantly at the camera (while, incongruously, a big flat screen TV played in the background). Other children have described worse: Hair falling out, bleeding noses, puking.

Due to the squalid housing conditions on the reserve – cold, mould, smoky air from wood burning stoves – these kids suffer from frequent respiratory infections, ear infections, strep throat and rashes. Due to overcrowding, neglect and abuse, they suffer from mental-health issues. Native children commit suicide at a rate five to seven times higher than the non-native population; for Inuit children, the rate is 11 times higher, one of the highest in the world.

Children living in such squalor in non-native environments would be likely removed from their families and placed in foster care. But the grim legacy of the residential school system, and the political incorrectness of jeopardizing the maintenance of their aboriginal heritage, means native kids are left to suffer while the rest of Canada remains largely ignorant.

No one is advocating that First Nations children be subjected to the cruelties of residential schools, where previous generations were told to be ashamed of being Indian, deliberately turned against their culture, and subjected to sexual and physical abuse. But the reality is that by leaving them in environments like Attawapiskat, we are knowingly condemning them to a cycle of poverty, abuse and neglect, a cycle that no amount of tax dollars has been able – or will be able – to break.

Yet that is exactly what governments have done for the past six decades under the Indian Act, by perpetuating a system of aboriginal apartheid.

Aboriginal apartheid benefits no one, except the thousands of bureaucrats, lawyers, advisors and activists whose livelihoods depend on the continued misery of aboriginal Canadians – and the exploitation of the legal relationship between them and Ottawa, carved out by the Indian Act and treaties signed centuries ago. Land claims negotiations drag on, law conferences are held, aboriginal leaders collect salaries that in some cases are higher than the Prime Minister’s. Yet kids are still sniffing glue and hanging themselves, all in the name of maintaining connections to the land and aboriginal traditions.

Canada’s reserve system is economically unsustainable in the 21st century. For communities that have no resources to exploit, or are so remote as to be completely reliant on outside aid, the system means eternal dependence on Ottawa and a life devoid of opportunity. For those who do have resources, or are proximate to major urban centres, government support should logically eventually become unnecessary, as industries develop and trade increases. Yet under the current regime, the latter doesn’t seem to happen, because the reserve system’s tax benefits and transfers provide a perverse incentive for people to stay put, even when opportunity may be better elsewhere.

What is the answer to improving the lives of those aboriginal children in Charlie Angus’ video? It is scrapping the Indian Act and putting a stop to aboriginal apartheid. It is getting them and their families out of Attawapiskat, to places where they can access opportunity and make something of their lives. Their land may give aboriginals a past, but unless it also gives them a future, it should not yoke generation after generation of kids to a life of poverty and despair.

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1 Comment

  1. I did in fact look up the video posted by Charlie Angus; agreeably, these living conditions are not suitable for anyone. My late night-early morning google research regarding this topic, led me to more information about Attiwapiskat. Aside from appalling living conditions, this community experiences extremely high poverty rates, suicide rates, teen pregnancy rates, substance abuse, domestic violence and family issues. Also, the community does not have an actual school facility. The social problems are extreme, and even then, this is saying the least. It is clear, to me anyways, that this community is completely deprived from the basic human needs. There are no social services provided here, which is also another form of colonization. Social services expand choices and resources for individuals. I can’t say that I agree entirely about removing these children from their environment. The scope of the problem is obviously not in the hands of the parents, if almost the entire community does not have running water. Where there’s a child living in unsuitable conditions, so are their parents. When a child is in poverty, so are the parents. Removing children from their homes, is not in the best interest here; neither is it for non-aboriginal communities. Potentially, non-aboriginal children in care, are in “healthier” environments, because non-aboriginal children are not living in houses on reserves with twenty other people sharing their living quarters. Remote Norther fly-in communities of Ontario have been experiencing problems like this for quite some time. In 2005, Kashechewan experienced water contamination, and the entire community was evacuated. In the community of Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug,, a prospecting company claimed rights to their lands, and the natural resources and landscape used to harvest, hunt and fish were destroyed. Attiwapsikat is deprived of flushing toilets, but are quite literally sitting next to a diamond mine, which generates thousand of thousands of dollars. I (ignorantly) assume that none of this money generated from the diamond mine is invested in this community.
    At this point, the government needs to step in. By solely providing this community with the basic needs, is probably a step in the right direction. Step 1: build a school. Studies indicate that education leads to healthier life choices and higher quality of life. Step 2: Because investments like building new houses or apartments for the community members will put “so much pressure” on the economy; provide facilities for hygiene. For instance a building containing washrooms, showers, and laundry facilities with running water, which is accessible to the entire community. Step 3: A district health unit, which provides basic medical care, and programs for individuals, families and groups. Conclusively, the fact of the matter is, this is not “new” to the government and something should have been done years ago to improve these living conditions.

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