Are Canadians above racism? Sadly it appears we are not

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EditorialTHUNDER BAY – Editorial – Over the past weeks, since the housing crisis in Attawapiskat made national news, covering the story is to witness a level of anger, a level of frustration, and sadly a level of racism. that one would hope Canadians were above. Are Canadians above racism? Sadly it appears we are not. To witness some of the commentary from politicians is to see that solving the issues facing people living on reserves in Canada are still stuck in the same places it was decades ago. To read some of the comments on major news websites across Canada, and see some of the anger against Aboriginal people is worse.

Many have apparently decided that the Chief and Council in Attawapiskat are corrupt or lining their own pockets with taxpayer’s dollars. Those people have apparently made that decision based on a set of facts that are cloudy at best, and incomplete regardless of what side one may choose to take.

As it sits right now, there are few heroes in this fight, and quite likely fewer winners. Likely the losers will be the young people living in Attawapiskat and other northern communities with similar problems. Other losers will be Canadian taxpayers.

“Attawapiskat did not just happen. It was years in the making, just as it is happening in first nations reserves across this country,” states Charlie Angus, the MP for Timmins – James Bay. “The first thing the government did when it took power was to slash the capital funding for houses on first nations reserves by over half, and it has no intention of restoring funding. That is why the crisis is happening”.

When it comes to the move into Third Party Management, Angus comments “The Christmas break gave Duncan the chance to change the channel, and move the story elsewhere. Instead, the Conservatives made claims on the Healing Lodge they couldn’t back up, and are locked in a fight with the community about the Third Party manager taking over control of the education budget”.

Angus charges that the Minister is demonstrating how out of touch he is with the reality of what his Third Party Manager is seeking. “When Duncan says the Band is failing to supply ‘information’, he doesn’t say. or doesn’t understand, that writing cheques at the Education Authority includes intervening in agreements with: teachers; post-secondary off reserve students; high school student tuition agreements in Timmins-North Bay; boarding house arrangements; supplies for the portables, etc, etc”.

“Having a 3rd party dude from WInnipeg take control of every education agreement is unnecessary,” states Angus. “It will lead to numerous problems. As it stands now, if the Band doesn’t comply, these education agreements and payments will be nullified. Kids will be denied education. How is this a win for the Conservatives?”

The reality is this problem has been coming for far longer than the Conservatives have been in power. That is why this situation is really so sad. It should never have been allowed, by Canadians, to get to this point.

For the Conservatives, it appears getting the maximum value for the money spent is a priority. That message has been repeated continually in the House of Commons, and in the comments made in the media. There has been one member of the Conservative government who has come out suggesting a “communications problem” is one of the issues. Kyle Seeback, a member of the House of Commons Standing Committee has said it is time to end the rhetoric.

Seeback offers some hope that there actually is a desire to solve this problem, instead of leaving it for the future, and engaging in a battle of words, or worse.

Attawapiskat presented Prime Minister Harper with a massive opportunity.

Grand Chief Stan Louttit speaking on CBC’s The House said that the problem in Attawapiskat has been ongoing for twenty years. Grand Chief Louttit is absolutely right. All it takes is anyone with five minutes of time on Google to uncover that there is truth in Chief Theresa Spence’s comment, “The state of the housing stock in our community was assessed as early as 1992 when B. H. Martin conducted comprehensive housing report which produced a study of when stacked upon each other would reach four feet in height, a report which detailed the deplorable state of our housing stock at that time, this report is somewhere in the achives of Ontario region, and the continuous water problems that your department and staff have known about for years with very little accomplished”.

The Conservative leader has made some bold steps toward solving long-standing issues on the Aboriginal file. The Residential School apology presented what was a fresh start for many people. That admission that Canada’s government had not done the right thing with Aboriginal peoples was a step that offered real promise.

Likely however the situation in Attawapiskat, handled it appears in the most ham-fisted manner by Aboriginal Affairs Minister Duncan, will make further progress far harder.

On December 1, 2011, Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced that a Crown-First Nations Gathering will take place on January 24, 2012 in the National Capital Region.

Attawapiskat, and the conditions on many other First Nation communities offered the Harper Government a perfect opportunity politically.

The problems have been ongoing for “twenty years” as Aboriginal leaders have stated, the Conservatives could have used their efforts in fixing the problems as yet another knife in the lumbering Liberal Party which continues to try to reinvent itself. It could have allowed the Conservatives the opportunity to say that that while the Liberals talked and promised, that they are the party that does what is needed.

The Prime Minister’s announcement said, “During the Gathering, the Prime Minister, Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development John Duncan and other representatives of the Government of Canada will meet with Assembly of First Nations National Chief Shawn A-in-chut Atleo and a delegation of First Nation Chiefs to discuss key priority areas. The announcement was made today following a meeting in Ottawa between Prime Minister Harper and National Chief Atleo”.

It is likely that the handling of the situation in Attawapiskat is going to be one of the major issues discussed on January 24th. It is also likely that the handling of the situation by Minister Duncan will prove a major stumbling block for the talks. Duncan’s skills in interpersonal communications have been shown as very lacking throughout this crisis.

Conservative MP Kyle Seeback says the focus should be getting warm places for everyone to stay. Seeback stated, “We need to work together to find solutions”.

Perhaps what is needed right now is for the Prime Minister to step up to the seriousness of the situation, and act as his own Minister of Aboriginal Affairs? Either that, or put a new Minister into the portfolio who is able to understand issues on Northern Reserves.

The status quo of blaming the people in Attawapiskat might play to the Conservative’s hard core right wing, but Minister Duncan’s handling of this situation is making Canada look bad nationally and internationally.

Real change is needed. It does not appear the current Minister is capable of delivering that change.

James Murray

Interested in a little “Myth-busting”?

Where does Chief Spence live in Attawapiskat?

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