Straight Talk
LORNE GUNTER - Alberta's Papaschase grievances are largely illusory

Chief Calvin Bruneau (C) joins demonstrators as they stop traffic on the QEII highway during an "Idle No More" protest, just south of Edmonton, January 16, 2013.

Credits: REUTERS/DAN RIEDLHUBER

LORNE GUNTER | QMI AGENCY

The first thing to remember about the Idle No More blockade that kinda, sorta happened on the QEII highway just south of town on Wednesday is that the group behind it - the Papaschase First Nation - isn't even a real aboriginal band.

If anything, Papaschase is an air band - existing only in thin air. It has a chief, but no reserve. Even the Supreme Court of Canada has rejected its attempt to file a land claim. Yet there they were disrupting the busiest highway in the province.

Like much of the Idle movement, the Papaschase grievances are largely illusory. Yet that didn't stop them from trying to harass, delay and generally annoy tens of thousands of law-abiding Albertans.

The ancestors of today's Papaschase complainants signed away their reserve in the late 1880s. Of the 10 families on the reserve (which covered most of current southeast Edmonton) in 1886, seven - including the chief - gave up their claims in return for a cash payment. Most moved to the Enoch reserve west of town or drifted away.

The remaining three families agreed to be bought out in 1889.

Much of present-day Edmonton south of Whitemud Drive, including the drive itself, is on what was once Papaschase land.

Roughly, the old reserve ran from 51st Avenue in the north to Ellerslie Road on the south, and from 122nd Street in the west to 34th Street in the east - a large (and valuable) chunk of the city. It includes Southgate Mall, Mill Woods Town Centre and South Edmonton Common, the newest leg of Anthony Henday Drive and four high schools, Harry Ainlay, Louis St. Laurent, Holy Trinity and J. Percy Page.

Roughly 175,000 Edmontonians today live on what was once Papaschase land. But the operative word is "was."

The "band" was not seeking a return of its land. Rather it wanted compensation of a mere $2.5 billion.

However, in 2008, the Supreme Court ruled the current group of aboriginals who claim to be descendants of Chief Papaschase could not file a land claim. The justices were unanimous in their decision.

The Papaschase complaint may point to the biggest problem with Idle No More.

Since its inception last fall, the movement has degenerated into a bitter stew of gripes about injuries both real and imagined. It has become a hodgepodge of hysterical and conspiratorial claims, such as the mistaken belief that the recent federal budget bill makes it easier for bands to sell off their lands permanently. It has become a patchwork quilt representing any and every complaint ever harboured by a single aboriginal or band.

Idle is too ill-defined and too splintered to ever be satisfied.

Perhaps that is why so many non-aboriginal Canadians have proclaimed themselves fed-up with Idle in particular and aboriginal complaints in general.

This week 60% of Canadians told pollsters Ipsos-Reid that "most of the problems of native people are brought on by themselves." Similarly, two-thirds said there was already enough money going from Ottawa to the reserves. A further 81% said no more money should go until audits and controls could be put in place to ensure an end to chronic waste of tax dollars.

Disdain for Idle's claims was highest on the Prairies - not surprising since our region is home to most of the country's biggest, traditional reserves. On the question of whether band finances are well-managed, for instance, just 8% of Saskatchewan and Manitoba residents and just 16% of Albertans said "yes."

While Canadians are sympathetic to those who live on reserves, they have tired of the permanent claims of victimhood and demands for more money and even less accountability.

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