--> Getting It Right: The morality of reserves

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

The morality of reserves

All Canadians, regardless of race or gender or any other characteristic, have the freedom to live where they wish and conduct their lives as they please.

What they don’t have is the right for the government to support that lifestyle.

For over a hundred years, Canada has struggled with the right and moral course of action in dealing with our aboriginal populations.

In the late 1880s and early 1900s, the government’s course of action was one of isolation and annihilation. It was considered appropriate at the time to herd aboriginals onto reserves or kill them off, either directly or indirectly through epidemics and neglect. The best example of this was the impregnation of trading blankets with smallpox – an evil, disgusting, inhuman technique which should shame all right-thinking people.

When our fore-fathers recognized that isolation and annihilation were immoral, a newer approach of assimilation took hold. Driven by the Federal Government, it was considered best for everyone, including First Nations, if they could become “like everyone else”. If First Nations would just abandon their traditional family structures, territories and philosophy then we wouldn’t have this “Indian Problem.”

That didn’t really work out either –mostly because of widespread, culturally accepted and promoted racism in a Canada that was far more white and Anglo-Saxon than it is today.

Then during the 1960s, a wave of activism spread among progressive bands. Tired of despair, leaders began to emerge who pushed their children to get an education (yes, a white one) and fight back on their own terms. Bands and Nations became far more politically astute and began to lay the groundwork for what we see today: a strong, educated leadership that fights hard for the benefit of their people.

But we seem to have reached a new plateau. Aboriginal children, and more specifically those living on reserves, are more likely to not finish school, suffer abuse, and live in sub-standard conditions with inadequate food and medical attention.

It is time to revisit the idea that the best place to be Aboriginal in on a native reserve. The native population is very fragmented – there are 198 separate bands in BC, each with its own band council, governance structure and social programs.

The idea of scrapping reserves altogether is rarely discussed – some how it is seen as racist to suggest that the $8 billion Canada spends each year on First Nations isn’t deriving value when is supporting so many local governments and spread-out populations.

We are willing to help all needy Canadians, regardless of race. The question is how do we help people who chose to live hundreds of miles from running water and an elementary school and deny their children the advantages that other Canadians enjoy.

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