Straight Talk
EDITORIAL - Follow the money on reserves

Native protesters listen to speeches during an Idle No More march at the Peace Arch border crossing between Canada and the US in Surrey, British Columbia January 5, 2013.



Canadians are decent people.

We deplore the Third World conditions on many native reserves and we are willing to spend billions of dollars, every year, to improve them. But we also want to know we're getting value for our money.

That it isn't disappearing down a black hole, while poverty, disease, illiteracy, unemployment, substance abuse and crime skyrocket on reserves.

In that context, no one expects any magic answers to come out of Prime Minister Stephen Harper's meeting with aboriginal leaders Friday, especially since it has been set up in a circus-like atmosphere caused by two events.

First, the hunger strike by controversial Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence, who leads a poverty-stricken reserve, despite the fact tens of millions of federal tax dollars have been poured into it.

Second, ongoing protests by the Idle No More movement, which has a litany of complaints against the feds and which, in addition to peaceful demonstrations, has illegally blockaded rail lines and highways.

Canadians have seen all this too many times before not to be cynical.

Native protesters act - often without being charged for breaking the law - politicians react, meetings are held, promises are made and nothing changes.

There are no easy solutions to these issues, which include settling aboriginal land claims fairly and properly compensating aboriginal communities for the natural resources on their lands.

But nothing will ever change unless Ottawa gets a firm grip on federal cash flowing into the reserves and ensures taxpayers are getting good value for money.

For example, the federal audit released Monday showing massive undocumented spending at Attawapiskat is as much an indictment of the Aboriginal Affairs bureaucracy in Ottawa as it is of native leaders. How could the government have allowed this to go on, year after year?

What do these bureaucrats in Ottawa do all day, since ensuring a proper accounting of federal money being spent on reserves apparently isn't part of their job description?

This issue will only get bigger in the future, given Tuesday's ruling by the Federal Court that Ottawa is also responsible for 600,000 Metis, non-status and off-reserve Indians, in addition to those on reserves.

All the more reason to get a handle on where all this federal cash is going, now.

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