Thursday, December 8, 2011

Attawapiskat Crisis

Attawapiskat is a northern Ontario reserve that is going through a major housing crisis right now. They've declared a state of emergency and so far, the Government's reaction has been to send someone to figure out where the money went and offer ultimatums. While I know for a fact that some reserves suffer from corruption in the band office, I find it astonishing that in -30 C weather, with families in tents and shacks without proper isolation, running water, heat or electricity, Harper's government thinks the appropriate response is to send someone in to do some accounting and auditing.

This is not a wood shed. Families are living in there with no heat, plumbing, isolation or electricity.

If you want to know where the money went, this blog offers an easily understandable assessment based on facts and not conjecture: âpihtawikosisân

But, I'm not necessarily surprised. When a dossier of possibly controversial quotes from Harper's team was accidentally leaked, I instantly combed through it to find out his views of Native people and what I found was a man resenting our treaty rights.

"What the new 'rights' definition means is precisely the opposite of that. It's now being turned into the right of one particular group [Native People] to demand things of another, which by their very nature can't be reciprocated." - Stephen Harper from Two Wrongs Make a "Right" 11/01/99

What pisses me off most about this quote is that it could easily describe the situation Native people found themselves in when settlers came here and demanded land, demanded they move to small, undesirable tracts of lands and refused to give them the same rights as other citizens. Does that not sound like " particular group to demand things of another..."? I've mentioned before, but it bares repeating, that one of those rights was simply voting in Federal elections. Native people could not vote until 1960 without having to give up their treaty rights or renounce their Native status.

I can't seem to read one single article about Attawapiskat without coming across hundreds of comments offering their own personal solutions to the Native "problem". Some comments are well meaning but half-hearted but most comments are steeped in racism, stereotypes, ignorance, prejudice, resentment and bitterness. People thinking that they can solve hundreds of years of marginalization and generations worth of trauma in 1 paragraph. This over simplification of such a complex situation is tired and trite. I've heard it a hundred times before but it always sounds the same.

As someone who has been on many reserves and lived on one, I can tell you one thing: This is happening all across Canada and has been happening for a very long time. It is happening a few miles outside of your town or outside of your city. You may even drive on a highway that goes through or around a reserve and from afar you may see the houses. From afar, they may look in decent shape. But try living in one, and you will find out otherwise. Houses on reserves are built with the cheapest materials. Just ask Mike Holmes.

I don't know what it is going to take for people to see that just beyond the city limits is a 3rd world nation suffering and being ignored by the Government of Canada. Perhaps, Attawapiskat will open some eyes. I suspect that it won't be until some small child freezes to death before we get a meaningful reaction out of the Harper government.