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ATTAWAPISKAT

Attawapiskat is a James Bay Cree community which, unfortunately, has come into the news recently for all the wrong reasons. The community has hit the news (again) for the abysmal third-world living conditions and poverty existing on the reserve. As the native community understands only too well, negative reporting of Indian failure, conditions and behavior are only too quick to be reported in gory detail. Anthropologists refer to this as selective recognition; it is a part of a Colonialist pattern also present in other colonial states. Reporting of success is much rarer. This is only the latest notice that the Government of Canada - and Canadians as a whole - have paid in lip service to a condition that has existed here and in other native communities for decades. For that matter, most of these communities have never risen above this issue. I can guarantee that this issue will be in the news for a few weeks, there will be a flury of activity, and then everything will return to the Status Quo, leaving behind no measurable change. Because of all the hype - from both sides of the issue - we have felt we need to offer some balanced insight. The issue, from the Government of Canada (the "Harper Government" as Prime Minister Stephen Harper likes to be known) is pure and simple: the First Nation's Financial Mismanagement. The issue, as the First Nation Chief sees it, is that the government is not providing enough funding. The issue as the Assembly of First Nations sees it is government neglect and failure to live up to responsibilities, and failure to adequately fund aboriginal communities. The issue as the citizens of Attawapiskat see it is mismanagement and failure by the government to respond to their plight. And of course there is the the predictable chorus from right-wing reactionary ideologues, of Why the hell don't they just get out of there, that's what I and any sane intelligent person would do. So while everyone is blaming someone else, the citizens of Attawapiskat are stuck in a third-world humanitarian crisis. To be sure, these same citizens of Attawapiskat are the only ones who have actually taken the first positive steps within their limited means to address the issue. Instead of sitting around complaining, they have built such shacks as they were able to to give them at least a minimum of shelter. That is more than any of the authorities have done for them. So let's look at some of these issues. MORE MONEY In plain English, begging. Panhandeling. Been hearing that as long as I can remember. No matter if it is a Provincial Government, City, Town or First Nation, it is a common refrain. One of the biggest whiners has to be Mayor Mandel of the City of Edmonton. Rarely does a week go by without the good Mayor having some kind of hissy fit about how the Province of Alberta or the Government should give him more money. Get over it. You got a budget. Learn how to manage. Same thing with reserves. Yes, I know that there are larger issues of the State of Canada having unilaterally (stolen) our land and resources, and that by right royalties, resource monies, taxes, etc. legally belong to the Indians (check the Supreme Court rulings on this), and mayby that will eventually get settled. For the meantime, you don't have any. Period. Learn how to manage on what you have. If I am hungry with nothing at home and no money, it is not going to help me if I whine, beg, or wait for someone to give me money that they owe me. It is up to me to see to it that I manage. Let's be clear about this. The Government is under no contractual obligation to provide housing on reservations - or for that matter, to provide any operational monies at all (excepting a few minor funds in lieu of some minor Treaty obligations). The obligations that the Government have are simply those that it has to other Canadians, which are, to provide for a minimum standard of health services and social services equivalent to the minimum standards enjoyed by other Canadians (ignoring for the moment the currently un-resolved legal issues bound up with aboriginal ownership of the land and resources as upheld by the Supreme Court of Canada). Throwing money at a mismanaged problem does not make the problem go away, only more expensive. And that brings up the issue of Mismanagement MISMANAGEMENT Yes! Big Time! On 95% of First Nations. And no legal requirement for financial accountability - something that has annoyed the general Indian public for years. Most Chiefs and Councils do not have a clue about financial management. Their idea of Management is to initiate a some prestige project and sit back to let things happen - and give themselves a rais. On average, 75% of a First Nations budget is spent on "Administration", of which 60% is spent on the Chief and Council. Of the rest, much goes to new housing for a relative and, yes, in some cases, to new trucks for self and kids. Rarely do Chiefs and Councillors have any experience in budgeting and budget control or in project management.
In their defense, we have to remember that their Model for Financial Management is the Department of Indian Affairs and the Government of Canada. Not exactly the epitome of the best financial management. And don't get me started on government financial accountability, transparency and incompetence. Anyone remember Tony Clement's $50 million slush fund? But can't just blame mismanagement. Harper made a big issue of the fact that in 8 years Attawapiskat received $90,000,000 in transfer payments - or about $50,000 per person. If you stop and think, for a moment that is $11,000,000 per year, or about $5,500 per person per year. Which is actually somewhat below the national average per capita spending, and well below the per capita spending by the Government of Canada in places like Atlantic Canada and Quebec. That $11,000,000 is responsible for ALL community expenses, including maintainance of homes and buildings schooling preschool child care health care elder care disabled care medical services and facilities roads and snow clearing airport maintainance new construction of homes arts/recreation centers and programing social assistance payments Given that $7.5 million is squandered on "Administration", that leaves $2.5 million for community operations and development. Given that to build a house in Attawapiskat costs $500,000 each (not counting utilities servicing), building of houses in Attawapiskat pretty well takes up the rest of the budget. Now remember that the Chief and Council built a new Rec Center, among other things with that money. Also consider that unemployment/welfare in the community runs at around 70%. As for 'Administration' costs, these are not totally unwarranted. For example, telephone and untilities costs are about double what they are in the south; not to mention that more heating is needed in the north. Operations and repair of First Nations equipment is much much more expensive (if a computerized vehicle breaks down it is S.O.L. until it can be hauled out over the winter road to some point in the south); smaller equipment must be flown out. If you have electrical/furnace problems a repairman must be flown in from the south. As for Chief and Council, they are often required to attend meetings off in the south (such as with Indian Affairs). Such a trip will easily cost $8,000 at a time (Apparently teleconferencing and Skype have not yet been heard of in the north). Not to mention that, like Peter McKay, Chief and Council also like to show up on Official Business at various events. It is an interesting fact that among the Cree the Elected Chiefs are not considered true Chiefs. True Chiefs, the Traditional Chiefs, are called OKIMAW, meaning "Influential/leading person". The Elected Chiefs are called OKIMAKAN, "Imitation/Pretend Chief". Elected Chiefs were unilaterally foisted on our people by the Government and often manipulated into office by Indian Agents and missionaries. They are not a traditional governance. Traditional Chiefs were not elected and received no salaries. They simply rose from the populace because they proved themselves by making good decisions and providing effective leadership. They are still out there and highly respected, but rarely bother to run for the position of OKIMAKAN. Not that the skills and abilities are lacking in these communities. Having spent 20 years in such communities as Area Manager for a government department delivering skills training, I know well that they are there. The problem is that they are not developed and used. Rarely can students growing up in such isolated communities list more than five potential jobs - only the kinds of jobs they are familiar with in their own community: R.C.M.P., Nurse, Teacher, Doctor, Forestry worker/Fire Fighter, Grader Operator, Store Clerk. You may note that 4 of these are normally open only to outsiders (whites) with University education (Attawapiskat does not even have a school). Our Department operated 2 trades skills development campuses, developed a College campus, funded employment training programs and ran a plethora of community programs, with a budget over 10 million dollars. Our administrative staff were all locals, who were trained into the positions from, at best, a grade 8 education. From telephone reception to Office Manager. Took 2 years to train a person to Office Manager, but there was always someone ready to take over. Not once was there an accounting problem: this office was actually the most efficient of the Area offices. Some of the trained persons spun off into other management positions, such as small business management. Small businesses - including cafeterias, firewood operations, daycare - were started and spun off into private businesses. Others went on into college training, others directly into trades or employment. Success Rate was 79%. People that had been written off by the police or social services ended up as Legal Secretaries, R.C.M.P. officers, Office Managers in regional hospitals and band offices, office secretaries/book keepers, owners of small businesses, managers of community utilities services, and so on. Unfortunately, such programs are rarely implemented in these communities due to political infighting, lack of understanding of the community realities by the provincial and federal politicians and bureaucrats (who tend to have such bright ideas as developing Commercial Egg, Dairy and Hog Production enterprises or Computer Repair businesses in northern isolated communities), lack of local skills or will to initiate such programs. Thirteen more communities were wanting to have such programs establish in their own communities. All were willing to raise the finances themselves and vowed not to interfere with the operations of the program: they wanted the Management and trainers, and the skilled people coming out of the program. Unfortunately, such programs are rarely permitted to survive. Funding issues and Departemental infighting usually call the shots. Our Program was taken over by Social Services who quickly decided that "these (our administrative office staff) can not possibly be able to do that kind of work" and laid them off, replacing them with the RCMP's wives and requiring us to staff them with physically and mentally disabled non-natives; they then changed the program from a development program to a Work-For-Welfare program (which took the welfare recipients off the Welfare rolls, to a different budget catagory) after which they were dumped ont Unemployment benefits after six months; this allowed Welfare to show that in their short time handeling they had managed to reduce Welfare by such-and-such an amount. Since the WFW program people had nowhere to go once UIC ran out, they were of course back on welfare in six months - but it had looked good on paper and in press releases. GOVERNMENT NEGLECT Hey, government neglect of aboriginals and aboriginal issues began with John A. Macdonald and has not changed since. The only time the government notices native issues is when they want something from the native community. They rest of the time they offer nothing but neglect, denial and legal roadblocks. Neglect? Attawapiskat has been without a school for 10 years. The Government of Canada can spend billions of dollars to go build schools and improve lives in Afghanistan and bring clean water to Haiti or Malaysia, but it can not bring water or a school to Attawapiskat (and other similar communities). The Government of Canada bends over backwards to provide upgrading and English courses for new immigrants and to being in foreign workers, but it can not provide decent schooling for aboriginal students. Per capita educational delivery funding for aboriginal students is only 60% of what it is for non-aboriginals in Canada - not even counting schooling infrastructure. Historically government neglect has resulted in 2 uprisings (1870 and 1885), not to mention a number of seperate skrimishes, including such stand-offs as OKA. I don't see that that will change. IDEOLOGUES There are, and always will be, the reactionary ideologues, such as Stephen Harper, Tom Flanagan and Ezra Levant and the just plain ignorant, such as Michael Coren. The ideologue response is normally "I know what is best for you, and this is what you will/should do or we'll do it for you." There is even the Conservative Party Front Organization, the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples, who promote this view. The C.A.P. ostensibly represents "all of Canada's aboriginals" but has no membership; has no presence whatever in the west; never heard of it until Patrick Brazeau was made Senator. Tried to contact it several times but got no response. Paid for by the Conservative Party; Brazeau has been a party flunky since age 16, his salary in C.A.P. was $120,000.00 paid for by the Conservative Party. These guys - like Social Workers - have the answer to all the world's problems. Got it all from reading books. It may surprise you, but we have a large number of intelligent people in our own community who have also considered these problems and issues. And have rejected both ideologies of the right and ideologies of the right. We tend to be more pragmatists than ideologues. Culturally conservative and socially liberal. Libertarians. The first thing that Ideologues come up with "Get Rid Of Reserves" and "Get Rid of Special Status". Sorry, those are no starters. Virtually all aboriginal peoples will resist that. Firstly, they are legal contracts that exist between the First Nations and the Government of Canada. As the Supreme Court of Canada has pointed out, these contractual arrangements can not be done away with unilaterally without consent of the aboriginal parties affected. Secondly, reserves are the last vesgige of our land and heritage that was stolen by the Government. Without them - even though most of us HAVE left in pursuit of a better future - we have nothing. Supposedly by breaking up reservations and giving individual land titles would make all Indians wealthy, and they could mortgage their land to develop their own businesses, commerce, industry and corporates. Right. That is why giving Scrip to the Metis in lieu of Treaty Status was such a huge success. Just look at how Metis dominate Canadian industry and finance - Not. This same Bill of Goods has been sold to most First Nations at one time or another: "Sell Your Land and You Will be Wealthy Forever." Apparently these ideologues have never bothered to read the history of native land alienation. Doing away with reservations was tried in the United States in the 1950's. It was an unmitigated disaster. The U.S. is not trying to re-establish some of these reserves. It will never happen as long as the situation remains the way it is. THE STATUS QUO As we noted, aboriginal issues have been neglected ever since the Government became involved with natives. This is the Status Quo. Ever since the Government began to deal with natives they have been wringing their hands about the "Indian Problem". Native peoples have been in this land 15,000 years and managed to do quite nicely. There was no Indian Problem. There was no Indian Problem until the Government came along. Even then, we had no Indian Problem. From our point of view, we now had a White Man Problem. The Government's Indian Problem was that they wanted the Indian lands, properties and resources (including farms and businesses) and for the Indians to disappear. For over 100 years now the Government has been trying to resolve the Indian Problem. This is the Status Quo. For over 100 years now the Government has repeatedly initated programs and policies to resolve the Indian Problem. Without success. In spite of this, they continue to re-apply the same old failed 'solutions' to the problem, with predictable results. This is the Status Quo. There is normally little co-ordination with the aboriginal community in implementing such programs. It is a top-down program planning. This is the Status Quo. The government gives out $ billions a year in aid to foreign nations and agencies. Do they ever ask for accountability or impose a 3rd Party Management? Do they ask Haiti, or Somalia, or China for an accounting? Never! But for $10 million at Attawapiskat (1/10 of what Tony Clement doles out in his riding each year; about what Peter McKay spends in travel each year) the government demands the most stringent crack-down (after having ignored the situation for 10 years). This is the Status Quo. As noted above, the Government of Canada can spend billions of dollars to go build schools in Afghanistan. But Attawapiskat has been without a school for 10 years. Neighboring Kasheschewan for 2 years - and these are just two of the dozens of communities that have no schools or sub-standard school facilities. This is the Status Quo. The government spent billions to bring clean water to Sri Lanka, Haiti or Malaysia, but it can not bring clean water to Attawapiskat and some 300 other Native communities. This is the Status Quo. The Government of Canada bends over backwards to provide upgrading and English courses for new immigrants and to being in foreign workers, but it can not provide decent schooling for aboriginal students - the fastest growing segment of the Canadian population and the largest potential source of new workers and laborers. And, furthermore, a segment of the Canadian population that does not mind working and living in the north. When was the last time you heard of new immigrants or foreign laborers taking jobs up north? This is the Status Quo. LACK OF OPPORTUNITY One of the biggest problems on reserves is the lack role models and lack of of opportunity. Virtually the only persons on a reserve who have been successful are those who have left and returned. This means that there are actually few successful persons on the reserve; back to the problem that few youths on a reserve can identify a broad range of careers. Few of the successful ones return during their working careers. If they return it is to retire. Most of those who were 'successful' in the outside world and retire to the reserve were involved in non-legal activities. Few persons on reserves have management experience. Those who have experience are usually off-reserve and have made their way in the outside world. Few First Nations have realized that they need to tap into this management resource and hire those members who have that kind of experience. For example, the Fire Chief of one of the largest cities in California comes from an Alberta reserve. He could not get a job on the reserve. My brother-in-law was the first on the reserve to get a college degree - but he could never get a better job on the reseve than Equipment Operator. His wife got a Teaching Certificate, but never got a better position than Teacher's Aid; the Director of Education had a Grade 8. Even among the Nations that have realized that they could hire their own experienced people, the policy could - and often is - overturned by the next Council, which is elected every 2 years. Few, if any, Band owned/operated businesses have ever succeeded on an ongoing basis. Years ago we established a band-owned gas station/store for our reserve, set up the accounting system and trained the staff. Management was supplied by the Band Council. It failed. The Band Councilors/management had a habit of filling up their vehicles, taking cases of cigaretts and anything else 'on account' - which was never paid. Most Nations have gone through the Gas Station thing. They set it up, it fails. They lease the operation to a Chinese or Korean family and it is a success. The Band thinks it is being cheated and takes it back. It fails. They lease it out to a Chinese or Korean family and it is a success.... Some Nations have operated some 'prestige' businesses for over 20 years and never had a profit. Some years ago one of the norther bands decided to open a sawmill and logging operation. It was funded by the government - much against our recommendations. Opening sawmills is something that gets done on every northern reserve about every 10 years. Unable to halt the project, we required a strict and detailed operational plan which, of course, went out the window the day the first cheque arrived. Within a year the band was $4 million in debt. The following year they contracted out to a local logging firm - a successful off- reserve band member who had his own logging operation, in addition to other businesses (trucking, farming 6 sections, etc.). He (and the band) made a profit. Claiming that he was ripping off the band, that they should be getting more, the Band took back the business. Needless to say, they once again hemoraged money. And so it goes. Individuals on a reserve CAN NOT own their land (or even the produce of their land) under the Indian Act. Nor can it be passed on to your children. Any private development on a reserve becomes the property of the Band. Of course, this keeps people from investing and developing on reserves. At one time we proposed to invest in a joint-development of a resort on the reserve (90% unemployment) that would hire 10% of the population. Investment would have been in the millions. The Chief was always "too busy" to talk to us. Finally, on the phone, he suggested that we could go ahead with the development. Of course, all the infrastructure would belong to the band to dispose of if and when they felt like it, but the band could not see itself putting any money into it. Same with other business developments we were interested in getting into. The answer was always 'Go ahead, you can develop it, but we own it'. Like Attawapiskat - and virtually every other reserve - our Rez is short on housing. Development (i.e. financing) can not keep up with population needs. Again, this is a property issue; you can not own your own house on a reserve. We - and others have had the same experience - were willing to move in our own house or build a house on the Rez. Not allowed, unless we agreed to give it to the Band. Another time we were prepared to develop a 20 suite rental unit, at our own cost. Again, not permitted unless we gave ownership to the Band. Furthermore, there is no encouragement to develop local business. Understand that there are NO businesses in these northern reserves. 2000 people and the only business is the Hudson's Bay store. 600 cars and the nearest Insurance agent is 100 miles (or more) away, often over seasonal trails. Simply the businesses that we expect for granted in even the smallest rural community simply do not exist on a reserve. A friend opened a mechanic shop on a northern Rez, with the idea of setting up a gas station. However, all his relations - and the Band - wanted everything on credit (which was rarely repaid). Before long he gave up and came to work for us. Another friend wanted to open a shop in another community. A very competent mechanic, but he could not pass the test, because he did not know the English terms for mechanical situations used in the test. Another acquaintance came to ask for help to open a laundromat in another isolated reserve. He had the property but needed $10,000 for rennovatons and equipment. Business analysis said the idea was sound, and that over a year it would save the community some $40,000, which would be recycled locally into the laundromat and into the local store. Funding rejected by the government. On another occasion an acquaintance came with the idea of setting up a firewood cutting/supply business on one of these isolated reserves. Again, analysis showed it was sound for that community, generating $200,000 a year in business - with a guaranteed contract with the Band. Funding requirements were minimal, again, under $10,000. Funding was again rejected by the government, which simply could not accept that firewood was still in use. At the same time on this reserve they were willing to spend almost $1 million to train people in dairy production - with the nearest market being 400 miles away by air. We can go on and on, but the point is, there is a lack of opportunity on the reserve; reserves are mired in what is known in Sociology as the Culture of Poverty, and until that changes to a Culture of Success, that encourages and fosters opportunity things will not change. And that, too, is the Status Quo. And has been for 200 years. We need only go back 130 years to see where Indian Affairs made it illegal for Indians to use modern farming and industrial equipment on reserves because "it made them successfull too fast". And that is the Status Quo.
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718 - TOM OJO - CANADA 1-403-885-2991