Friday, December 02, 2011

Hard times in Attawapiskat and the government blame game

In some peculiar way, I think of Attawapiskat,  a First Nations reserve, as a neighboring community, even though it is a fly in community way up on James Bay, and I can drive to Toronto or Ottawa  easily on reasonably good roads.  Why? Because we share the same regional CBC radio service, and for 20 years I have been hearing weather forecasts for Attawapiskat.

Currently, a lot of people are hearing about Attawapiskat and it is all bad news. People are living in shacks and tents – this is up at James Bay mind you– and the sewage situation is in a state of collapse. The band government has had to work very hard to attract the attention of senior levels of government and the general public, and now that they have, they are being blamed for bad management and wasting the money that the government gives them.

When I said the government "gives" them money, you have to remember that what the First Nations "give" in return is – Canada.  People are always saying that we non-natives "give" money to natives, but you seldom hear people talking about the money senior levels of government "give" to Toronto or the Township of Bonfield, even though those "gifts" are a very significant part of the budget of both municipalities.

Our Prime Minister wants us to believe that this is all to be blamed on native mismanagement. If you want a better understanding of the roots of the problem I recommend this blog entry.  Or you could just look at the band documents. Apparently the Prime Minister has not bothered yet.


  1. Steve:

    To quote 'âpihtawikosisân'

    " How much money was actually allocated to housing in 2010-2011? Page 2 of Schedule A (PDF) shows us that out of the $17.6 million in federal funds, only $2 million was provided for housing. "

    I'm going to take that as the lowest possible number quoted through the blog post.

    What my problem here is this: Via Wikipidia (I know, no the best source!) the people living in Attawapiskat number just less than 2000. So lets call it 2000.
    Divide 2 million by 2 thousand - and you get $1000.

    But that in itself is a BS game. Using that as a 'support' number assumes that no one there actually HAS anything.

    Thats about 2/3 of what I have PAY in property taxes. Without knowing exactly what those dollars are supposed to purchase, the whole exercise of who gets what - for what purpose, is totally meaningless.

    The blog poster states quite specifically that those who do not agree with her (?) assessment are in fact *racist*.

    And as far as 'giving' us Canada, this sounds way to much like the *myth* of the happy hunting ground. It is no longer 1600, and a hunter gather lifestyle is brutish, short, and terrible.

    Did First Nations get screwed over by 'the whites?
    Am I *personally* responsible?

  2. It's not 1600 but the obligations of the Crown to First Nations still stand and cannot be abrogated unilaterally. It's not a matter of being screwed -- unless of course the contract is not faithfully observed. Of course there are plenty of historic wrongs, some of which call for righting, and could be, but that is not what I am talking about at the moment.

    Most of us in rural Canada depend to a large degree on infrastructure that we have not paid for in any direct way. My township would disappear if the vast majority of its budget was not provided by provincial subsidies.

    So Attawapiskat is like Bonfield in that way. It is different in that it has a series of contracts with the Crown -- in which native sovereignty was surrendered or curtailed in return for a certain amount of economic support. Some people object to those agreements and the Feds and the Provinces constantly try to wiggle out of them, but a deal is a deal.

    It's worth noting that among the things First Nations gave up was the natural source of capital on which their economies were based, and might be based today, if they still had all that land. You know, like the land near Attawapiskat where the DeBeers diamond mind is, which mines pay royalties to someone or other. Not the native communities. That may not have been the best arrangement, but do you think that the First Nations could have got a better one?

  3. Anonymous12:25 am

    The Indian Act was and continues to be a historic wrong.

    Allowing the government to assume special responsibility to the First Nations people suggests that these people are not responsible enough to manage without. It is inherently racist.

  4. Damned if you do, damned if you don't. Either you nanny people and they resent you, or you ignore them and they resent you. Or you can throw money at them, in which case you are driving the local economy into the ground. And therefore they resent you.

    Its time to treat people like human beings, not like "case studies".