By Brent Wesley
The James Bay community in Northern Ontario made the declaration in late October, yet people in the community have lived in makeshift houses since 2009. Some residents are facing the onslaught of a third winter without proper homes. And in Ontario’s Far North, winter is harsh and unforgiving, It’s a situation that can tug at the heart strings of most people. But when Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Duncan exercised his ministerial right to put the community under third-party management, suddenly the spotlight was on band finances. Where has the money gone?
Others have done a good job of breaking down the numbers, so I won’t dwell on it. Rather, as a First Nation person, the public backlash has weighed heavy. Instead of compassion, First Nations were suddenly generalized and told we don’t know how to fend for ourselves. Funny, considering I have an education, have a job, own a home and I’m raising a family. But wait, “you’re okay, I like you. It’s those other Indians I don’t like.” Words I have actually heard before.
I can’t imagine the toll the backlash has taken on the people of Attawapiskat. But sometimes the weight of the outside world isn’t very apparent in the day-to-day lives of people living in remote isolated communities. Life is a struggle to survive. Poverty. Social and health issues. Expensive food. Lack of potable water. The list goes on. Yet, the onslaught of voices can penetrate the thickest barrier. Suddenly, everyone is an expert and knows what’s best. And more often than not, that advice tends to focus on the usual uninformed, misguided diatribes of “get a job” or “take care of yourselves and stop depending on taxpayer money.” And even the most well-intentioned advice can be unwarranted.
Why does it bother me? Because it’s the same old attitude that has brought on the problems that exist and fester in every corner of Indian country. Father knows best. And you best heed his advice. Paternalistic attitudes and policies that have done more harm than good. Basically we are being told, “those Indians can’t take care of themselves so we best step in and make things right.”
On a personal level I’m deeply offended that government and certain segments of the Canadian public would even think of stepping in. In the case of Attawapiskat, the community reached out for help. Instead, they were told “you don’t know what you’re doing so move aside.”
Well, frankly, the community does know what it’s doing. It has stable leadership. It’s one of the rare communities to post its financials online. It has emergency management plans in place. It has operated a school for years without a proper building. No one is looking at those positives.
But like almost every other First Nation in Canada it operates on limited financial resources for health, education, infrastructure and housing. To compound that, it is stuck dealing with the bureaucratic juggernaut that is Aboriginal Affairs, one of the federal government’s largest ministries. It’s a lot to ask of any competent leader to deal with. But it’s the reality of First Nations.
1) Americans, and I guess Canadians, apply the "lazy, incompetent, dead weight" stereotypes to all minorities, not just Indians. As we've discussed in postings such as:
Rubio: Entitlements "weakened" us
Didier: Stop "protecting the weak"
Why Americans hate welfare
2) In the Indians' case, these stereotypes are closely related to the "uncivilized" and "savage" stereotypes. The idea is that Indians can't handle business or government because they're too primitive and barbaric. Like cavemen who time-travel to the present, they're incapable of comprehending modern society. They're like apes or wolves in human clothing: pretending to be people, not real people.
For more on the Attawapiskat crisis, see Blaming the Victim at Attawapiskat and Home Renovator Tackles Housing Crisis. For more on Indians as welfare recipients, see Candidate: Indians Spend "Handouts" on Drugs and Chickaloon Indians = Leeches?
Below: The "crying Indian" stereotype, again.