As Their Ancestors Did
It seems that it matters little how much public treasury is poured into the reserves for housing, medical attention, education, and financial support for the 80 to 90% who are unemployed, the results are always the same. With the exception of a relative handful of reserves which have distinguished themselves by becoming proudly independent and progressive, and wealthy in the bargain through exploiting opportunities available to them through proximity to cities and their own natural resources, most reserves are examples of sad and sorry failure.
Having doled out $90-million in federal funding alone in the past five years, just for Attawapiskat with its 2,800 registered members - let alone other funding that reaches them through provincial coffers and other sources such as the Casino Rama gaming facility near Orillia, there is little of value to show for it. Funding is not the issue. Mismanagement most certainly is.
Governments have not carefully followed where the funding is being spent. Native groups, after all, take huge umbrage at being under the perusal thumb of government; it interferes with their notion of sovereignty, although the constant hand-outs do not. They wish to be independent of oversight, but not independent of receiving tax-funded assistance to enable them to exist.
Twenty years ago a friend of my younger son, after graduating from university took a job teaching at Attawapiskat. He liked the people, liked the thought that he might be doing something useful; he was an idealist. Eventually, his idealism soured, and although he still liked the people among whom he lived as a teacher, he was disgusted that they saw no value in being responsible.
For their part, they thought it was hilarious that people off reserve had to struggle to earn a living to pay rent or buy a home and to pay all the bills that normally arrive when one strives to live a decent life with all the needed amenities. My son's friend simply got fed up with the casual attitude toward anything, including the requirement to attend school and pay attention to lessons and offer respect to one another.
In Attawapiskat last year, the acting chief was paid a salary of $71,000. For overseeing a community of fewer than three thousand people. The technical services manager of the reserve received $87,000. The acting band manager spent $68,000 in two months' time for travel expenses. A 'round-the-world, all-expenses-paid trip to see how others live and bring his report back home?
Wages, employee benefits and administration were represented by $14.4-million in one year for a reserve of less than three thousand souls. Where normal home repairs were neglected, and where children's welfare also has been neglected, but where a small handful of the favoured are given employment and generous salaries while the rest of the reserve suffers.
But the national organization of aboriginal chiefs have their kingdom. And they like things to be done their way. And their way includes persuading Canada's most at-risk populations that they must respect their heritage and continue to serve the land, and live as their ancestors did.
And they do.