Look at Google News today: “Send troops to help Attawapiskat.” For a month, we’ve read about the Band Chief declaring a state of emergency over the lack of housing and Prime Minister Harper saying that millions of federal dollars have been spent in the northern Ontario Cree reserve. People have been living in tents and crammed into a construction trailer because there aren’t enough habitable houses.
So, I have just one question about those millions of dollars. How much of that money was actually spent within the Department of Aboriginal and Northern Development? Spent not only on ministerial and high level bureaucrat salaries and expenses, but also in the low- and mid-level “worker bee” bureaucracy and on consultants? How many memoranda and discussion papers have been prepared over how many years? At what cost in wages, expenses and materials?
And another question, I guess. Why does reserve housing continue to be built using southern Canadian designs and materials? It seems pretty evident that neither usually hold up very well to northern weather and usage conditions. And why is the construction often slipshod in the first place?
Inadequate housing on reserve is not new, especially in the north. So now a rhetorical question, I guess. When is someone in government going to seriously look at how things are done and find a solution that works better? The problems have been outlined and witnessed for decades. Solutions have been suggested. Why is a system still in place when it has been shown to be unwieldy, inefficient, and just not working?
An old problem two decades ago
For those of you who may not know about it or have forgotten it, Geoffrey York’s book The Dispossessed is an excellent collection of his essays on, as the subtitle says, “life and death in Native Canada.” First published in 1989, it unfortunately is still a valid commentary on First Nations conditions today. Read Chapter 3 “Inside the Reserves” especially.
When the book came out, the problems outlined in it were already old. Patience was running out. Two decades later and it’s like it’s a big surprise that conditions on many reserves are appallingly bad. Still news that people are having problems adequately providing for themselves and their families.
There are calls for the Canadian military and/or volunteer agencies to help out with the crisis in Attawapiskat. The Red Cross of Canada has already become involved. That is great. Maybe volunteers and the military can help alleviate the immediate problems. But why on earth should any of them have to? In Canada, one of the richest countries on the planet? If this is due to legislation (Indian Act) and bureaucracy, let the legislators and bureaucrats earn their money. Get it sorted out – for the long term.