Straight Talk
MONTE SOLBERG - Weak leadership key Aboriginal problem

Assembly of First Nations Regional Chief Bill Traverse, right, with hunger striker Raymond Robinson and other chiefs as they arrive to speak to the media with other Manitoba Chiefs Jan 10, 2013 in Ottawa.

Credits: ANDRE FORGET/QMI AGENCY

MONTE SOLBERG | QMI AGENCY

One thing is for sure, Chief Theresa Spence is no Mahatma Gandhi.

Going on a fish broth diet after years of filling her boots as chief of Attawapiskat makes an important point, but not the point she intended. Now that the facts are out about spending in Attawapiskat, it makes a point about the hypocrisy of Chief Spence blaming Ottawa for the problems on her reserve.

Recently I received an e-mail from a buddy of mine pointing out that Occupy Wall Street was righteous at first. It was a protest against bankers whose greed caused a worldwide financial crisis and who then needed to be bailed out by Joe and Joanne Lunchbucket. But then he noted that in the short time it took to get to Canada, it had become an "incoherent bitch session."

He then noted that Idle No More had some of the same tendencies. He's right.

When Idle No More began, at least some of it was about improving the horrible living conditions and giving hope to people on reserves. Great point. We should all be concerned enough to find out what the problem is.

Five minutes later, Idle No More had become an "incoherent bitch session."

It was on shaky ground the moment it gave up on the noble ends - improving conditions - so it could focus on a particular means - more money and power. It was doomed when the Attawapiskat audit showed that money and power aren't the problem. The problem in too many cases is the blatant abuse of money and power by some Aboriginal leaders.

No, not even a fish broth-fuelled publicity stunt can redeem the brazen self-interested demands and finger pointing now that the facts have been laid bare. But let's go back to where we started, you know, when we were concerned about conditions on reserves.

Now let's acknowledge that there are a number of things that contribute to the dysfunctionality on too many reserves. In many cases, reserves are in remote areas where there is little opportunity to find a job. To fix that, we'd need to scrap the Indian Act, an idea that many Aboriginal leaders refuse to consider. But it's a debate that needs to be reopened.

In other instances, there are jobs nearby but education on reserves has generally been a disaster. Too often local Aboriginals can't take advantage of those opportunities. Clearly major educational reforms are overdue.

Scores of other problems exist as well, but the biggest problem of all is weak leadership. That's why some reserves with modest resources but good leadership do extraordinarily well. Others are Attawapiskat.

Chief Spence wants us to ignore the money flowing here, there and everywhere in Attawapiskat. Odd how the only place it hasn't gone is to the people who need it. She's done a terrible job on behalf of her people but somehow that's Ottawa's fault.

My buddy who e-mailed me made the point that the worst world we could ever conceive of living in is a world without hope. Again he's right.

And finding hope can't start until Aboriginal people demand and receive accountability from their leaders, beginning with Chief Spence.

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