December 13, 2011

Attawapiskat triggers "welfare" stereotypes

Depressing rerun for anti-native stereotypes

By Brent WesleyLazy. Incompetent. Dead weight. Basically, a burden on the taxpayers. Harsh descriptives for anyone to swallow, yet it’s par for the course for First Nations in this country. Especially when a major issue hits mainstream news like the state of emergency in Attawapiskat First Nation over inadequate housing.

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.
Comment:  A couple of things here:

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:

Republican Jesus™
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.


Anonymous said...

Once again, there is no demonstration in the article of how these people have been supposedly been victimized. Has there been a treaty violation of some kind or not? Is it a sovereign nation or not?

These questions NEED to be addressed if you're going to decry the use of the "tax-draining free-loader" brush being pulled out.

You kind of have to show, at least a little bit, how those accusations are untrue.

Wally Moran said...

Since your first post was Dec. 13, a great deal has come out about the mismanagement of Attawapiskat. Also, for those of us who have lived in the north, we don't appreciate the manner in which you have glossed over the truth about the reserves: alcoholism, substance abuse, sexual and domestic violence...and on, and on.
Furthermore, it is clear that the best thing we can say about Spence is that she is a) incompetent and b) opportunistic. b) could also be read as greedy, dishonest and lying and cheating, but let's not go there.
Canadians want our natives to live decent lives - and we also want to see value for the billions of dollars we send to them.
What part of this do you take issue with?

Rob said...

You want to know how Attawapiskat has been victimized, Anonymous? You mean besides the poverty, social and health issues, expensive food, and lack of potable water? Isn't that enough victimization for you?

I don't know what treaties Attawapiskat has signed. But I can tell you the answer in general. Tribes signed treaties that gave their land to the government in exchange for health and welfare benefits in perpetuity. In many cases, the government hasn't provided enough funding to make up for the loss of the land.

If you don't like this arrangement, you can blame your ancestors. If you want to renege on your treaty obligations, great. Just give back the land and you can cancel the government aid. The tribes won't need it anymore since the land is worth much more than the corresponding payments.

Rob said...

Actually, the first time I mentioned Attawapiskat in Newspaper Rock was 11/25/12, Wally.

Alas, how Attawapiskat managed or mismanaged its funds isn't a pop-culture issue. I don't have time to cover the internal politics of every tribe in Canada and the US.

You can find countless postings online that slam the Spence government for its lack of accountability. Here are a few that tell the other side of the story:

But fiscal mismanagement and stereotypes of Indians as lazy, good-for-nothing welfare drunks are two entirely different things. If the Spence government is at fault, why would you criticize Indians as a whole for the problem? Most Indians don't live in Attawapiskat and have nothing to do with it.

Those who do live there aren't choosing to have their funds mismanaged. They don't have any control over Spence other than voting her into or out of office. They probably weren't even aware of the problem until they read about the audit like everyone else.

In short, the Attawapiskat crisis offers no excuse for racist stereotypes about all Indians. That's the main point of this posting.

Wally Moran said...

You don't really expect me to accept something that 'apihtawikosisan' - I can't recall her name off the top of my head - has posted? This is a woman who cannot handle honest criticism on her blog and blocks anyone who offers it - or slanders or otherwise berates them. Rabble is about her speed. I will read the Maclean's article however.
I grew up in Northern Ontario, and lived there until my 30s. I'm well aware of native issues, and lifestyles, and the problems that many natives have with alcohol, substance abuse, etc. I have friends, and have had both employees and girlfriends who are native and I love and respect them all dearly.
But - there are problems with far too many native people, and a big part of that problem is that we have enabled them to live as they do, rather than telling them - you're responsible for your own lives. Get out, get a job, get off the booze and drugs, deal with life.
Not all Indians are welfare bums - you clearly are not - but too many are and that needs to be dealt with. And it's as much the white man's fault for enabling it as it is anyone else's fault. But bottom line - natives have to take responsibility and deal with the problems.
You're absolutely right that those who live in Attawapiskat do not want to live in squalor, their funds being pissed away to support band management, or to purchase nearly $2 million worth of land that no one can find any records of and other such foolishness. People such as Spence, and her boyfriend, who preside over such activity, need to be dealt with harshly. They are no better than thieves - worse actually, because they don't just steal money, they steal the decent life that Canadian taxpayers should be funding for our native population.
As for stereotypes - people tend to generalize, it's not right, but it happens. I do recognize that there are Indians and then, there are other Indians who are a problem.