This Is A Solution? By Whose Standards?
Not a rescue from their current plight, but a band-aid effort to gloss over the dangers inherent in living in a geography not meant for human habitation, a geography assured to continue the syndromes of failure currently assailing the Cree community of Kashechewan. Well-intentioned offers, with well constructed arguments in favour of moving the entire community alongside an established urban area where help could be sought when needed, were turned down.
The allure of remaining on the precincts of the tribal landscape proved too compelling. Residents would be amenable to a wholesale move with new, reliable and costly infrastructure costed out at roughly a half-billion dollars in support of its nineteen-hundred-strong population, with all manner of amenities required by post-modern society; a staffed hospital, schools, fire station, theatres, social centres, sports arenas, public swimming pools.
This option, rejected as too costly in support of an unrealistic lifestyle, which would simply collapse in upon itself once the gloss was removed from its newness, simply wasn't on, it represented a wish-list, nothing more. The newly-built homes fitted out with all the conveniences that residents anywhere would expect in a civilized urban setting, because there is no personal investment, would suffer the eventual fate of most such public buildings within reserves.
Discontent would arise once more as bored individuals would clamour for more enhancements to their way of life. A truly artificial way of life, given the setting. The setting, a traditional one of First Nations, but absent the lifestyle of traditional First Nations, however much the residents of Kashechewan mourn after their fabled past. They would not, could not, live as they once did, on the land and off the resources provided to them by the land.
Chief Solomon, who earlier claimed his community was fully prepared to relocate, claims now that the majority of residents had a change of heart, after much public discussion. Chief Solomon did admit that only 50 people showed up from the community to challenge his authority at a public meeting about his leadership, and most of those were his supporters.
"People change and the more you think about it, you have to live in the community to be able to appreciate the community around you and the people around you. It's who I am, it's where I come from and it's my home."
Traditions, heritage, love of the land all precious memories conspire to make people weep, to make them pledge enduring and undying adherence to that which once was. It is a poignant appeal to the sentimental zeitgeist in everyone. Everyone can relate to the emotional lure of memory, history, antecedents, social adhesion. The enduring value of love of the land and one's place on the land is uncommonly appealing.
But is it practical? Can several thousand committed people be self-sufficient, satisfied and determined to live life to its fullest in a remote community situated on a flood-plain which has already, along with a contaminated water supply, caused the community to be evacuated three times in the past?
What about such significant issues as health, education, employment opportunities? All social/civic elements of a successful community.
Now here is the Government of Canada (oops, sorry: should be Canada's New Government; one forgets from time to time) acquiescing to the community's demand that they stay where they are, but that more money - to the tune of $200-million - be invested in their current placement, to rebuild infrastructure, sewage and water systems, along with a new dike. Throw in another $45-million to build 200 new houses.
How long will the fleeting content of the good people of Kashechewan last once the building frenzy has come and gone? Will their lives truly be any more secure, safe, practical; meet the needs of the residents? Their desire is to live like anyone else, living in a modern urban environment. But this artificial construct in a traditional setting is unsettlingly inadequate in such a remote location.
This is just another stop-gap, another temporary 'solution' to an intractable problem that will only see a just and practical solution when the Cree of Kashechewan finally come to the conclusion that they've had enough of this artificially inadequate lifestyle, and yearn to become independent and responsible for their own well being.
And when the government finally reaches the point where it assumes the responsibility and the courage required to conduct meaningful and deliberate discussions with Native leaders to convince them that the needs of Canada's aboriginals are not being met under the current system of reserves and tribal chiefs making decisions for their charges which too often seem to benefit the chiefs and their families and friends rather than the communities at large.
When that time comes a more equitable situation may arise where Status and non-Status Indians living outside reserves have as much claim to assistance as their less independent members. It's even possible that Canadians, should land claims and other foot-dragging impediments to justice finally be settled, may finally feel some pride in their acceptance of the role of First Nations in this country.