--> Getting It Right: Reserves pt 2

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Reserves pt 2

Canadian aboriginal children are far more likely than other Canadian children to not finish school, become addicted to alcohol and other substances, face abuse and commit suicide.
This is all of our shame and responsibility, regardless of our race. Canadian children are Canadian children and none of them should live in despair and fear.

Aboriginal leaders are meeting in Quebec this week to discuss what Phil Fontaine, the Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, calls a “crisis situation”.

The leadership at the meeting considers that one of the cornerstones to resolving native poverty is the resolution of the some 800 outstanding land claims and treaties between the Government of Canada and First Nations.

But they caution that land claim resolution is not enough – a truth that is born out by an examination of the poverty levels of Canadian bands that have completed the treaty and land claim process.

It might also shed some light on the baffling rejection of an historic treaty of the Lheidli T’enneh located near Prince George in March.

Last week, I called the reserve system a failure. I stand by that. They are archaic structures developed in a time when aboriginals were systematically isolated with an intent to annihilate.

A culture and people cannot survive herded onto small tracts of land with no means of economic development. Without access to capital and other resources, the population becomes dependent on whatever money the government of the day wants to hand out.

That dependence is a breading ground for poverty and anger, as we’ve seen with recent threats of sabotage.

The definition of insanity, according to Albert Einstein, is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.

Mike Harcourt leaves the BC Treaty Commission this month but his involvement marks sixteen years of recognition of Aboriginal title in BC. There has been ever so slow progress on land claims and treaty, but it hasn’t been fast enough for First Nations or for any right-thinking Canadian.

As we go through this process, which no one denies has to be completed, is it so wrong to look at other solutions as well? Can we not, as a society, apply some creative thinking?

Does it make sense, while we are dealing with complicated and thorny legal issues of land tenure and resource allocation and access, to continue the insanity of isolated, under-developed third-world conditions? Saying that far-flung, rural reserves, with no hope of economic success, are a ridiculous way to deliver core services isn’t racist – it is humane.

Because if we wait for an uncertain treaty process to grind through the corridors of power, more children will die, become sick, lose an education and begin a new cycle of despair and dependence.

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