Credits: REUTERS/Chris Wattie
If anything productive is going to come from Prime Minister Harper’s Jan. 11 meeting with the Assembly of First Nations, we’re going to have to see specifics. This must start with First Nations leaders detailing exactly what they want.
Canadians know they don’t need to go abroad to see Third World living conditions. Years of alarming stories have made it clear the current Aboriginal Affairs model is broken. Many Canadians are very sincere about wanting to end the plight in remote aboriginal communities.
But Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence hasn’t made it easy for sympathetic Canadians. Spence, who plans to remain on hunger strike until at least after the Jan. 11 meeting, didn’t effectively use the many media outlets and politicians who came to visit her to get her message out. Some messengers were outright shunned.
Canadians are left with the vague notion that, according to Spence, the government has violated its treaties with First Nations. What are the details that lie beneath?
If it involves throwing more money at reserves, then the likes of Spence will have a lot of explaining to do.
Attawapiskat, population 1,800, has received $90 million in federal funding since 2006. Where is this money going? Documents suggest the Spence household pulled in as much as $250,000 in a recent fiscal year.
But if instead they want to reform underlying problems — socially and economically isolated locations of many reserves, lack of property rights, lack of accountability, the way the Indian Act treats First Nations people as children — well then we all might make some headway.
Many observers believe AFN chief Shawn Atleo has both the desire and smarts to work towards such changes. He’s less “my way or the highway” than the likes of Spence and more militant agitators. We look to Atleo with anticipation and good will.
However, those chiefs hoarding the money should be careful what they wish for when crying “idle no more.” If both average First Nations and regular Canadians become “idle no more” and start peeling back the curtain, the good times will come to an end.
All players at the meeting table must have a respect for the tax dollars pouring into reserves and also a desire to empower regular First Nations people.