12.04.2011 01:00 AM

In today’s Sun: ignoble. Not “ignorable.”

The terrible situation in Attawapiskat is, by now, known to many.

Families, children, living in tents and plywood shacks. No running water, no electricity, buckets serving as toilets. Sickness, despair, disease. Mould coating the walls of homes, and winter setting in.

The 1,800 Cree who reside in the remote northern Ontario community are Canadians, but their reserve doesn’t look much like Canada. It looks like something out of medieval times, when life was brutish and short. It shames all of us, in every part of Canada, that children live in conditions like that.

Over the years, I have advised many native bands. I have worked in communities almost as bad as Attawapiskat found in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba. I have advised successive governments — Jean Chretien’s, Paul Martin’s and Stephen Harper’s — about dealing with problems which are quite similar to Attawapiskat.

As the father to an aboriginal daughter, I was so proud to do that work, but I cannot tell you that I ever succeeded in what I tried to do.

I was a failure.


  1. que sera sera says:

    But at least you tried, Warren, and spoke up and out.

    I can’t tell you how many meetings I have sit in, shoulder to shoulder with Chief & Council with INAC, of course, on the other side of the table. In impoverished First Nations equally as grim and despairing as Attiwapiskat. Where gasoline sniffing is rampant and young children hide in the bush, standing around bonfires sniffing gas soaked socks tucked in plastic Northern Store grocery bags. Where there is little or no housing, little or no education, no jobs, no money, no recreation, and barely any hope.

    Have you ever smelled the human body as it metabolizes gasoline inhaled for hours/days through the nose? That peculiar weird smell that comes out of peoples pores? Once you smell it, you never forget it.

    Or the sight of cops lifted up in the cherry picker to cut down another suicide hanging in the trees out back. Reminds me of Billie Holiday and Strange Fruit.

    Canada is a disgrace when it comes to the willful impoverishment of aboriginal people coupled with the systemic and institutionalized racism directed towards aboriginals.

    It makes me weep when no one is watching, and speak about it to anyone who will listen.

    It makes me ashamed to be Canadian.

    And it makes me want to phone the RCMP and file a formal complaint about hate crimes whenever I read the G&M comments section on articles about aboriginals.

  2. Linda white says:

    Too Bad certain people pissed on the GREATPAUL mARTINS kELOWNA ACCORD…MAYBE it could have helped.

    • james Smith says:

      Why have the lap dogs in the media willfully ignored this? How soon we forget Davis Inlet.

      • Ken says:

        Davis Inlet wasn’t a reserve and wasn’t under the Indian Act, in case anyone was looking for a quick administrative fix.

        • james Smith says:

          The Davis Inlet story embarrassed those responsible into action, just like this story is doing. Where are the smartie-pants Jurnos pointing out the similarities, differences, lessons and follow-up?

          • Ken says:

            I know. What I was getting at was the notion that somehow reserve status and the Indian Act are the root causes. The Davis Inlet experience, as well as that of many Inuit communities, suggests otherwise.

            It won’t stop right-wingers from advancing their simple solution to complex problems though. Facts never do.

    • Paul Martin`s last minute “Accord” would have made $5 Billion available. Much more than that has been spent.

      • Woody says:

        More spent on what exactly? It doesn’t seem to be helping does it? I agree the Kelowna Accord was a step forward. It wasn’t about the money.

  3. Kevin says:

    I feel no shame whatsoever. We pour millions and millions into this reserve. The tribe alone is responsible for this horrid state of affairs and the government is responsible to wasting so much money with this result.

    • pomojen says:

      For everyone howling: “90 Million!!!! 90MILLION!” as if this on-its-face large amount of money gets us all off the hook. It’s not quite as straightforward as that.


      Accountability is important and money needs to be spent wisely. No one is going to argue about that.

      But please – if you have a crumb of intelligence, you cannot claim that stupid choices and mismanagement in these communities are all to blame – residential schools, appropriation of land, cultural and literal genocide all have something to do with this. Complex problems are not created overnight.

      There is a difference between guilt, shame and responsibility. Guilt implies personally being responsible for the cause of the harm. Taking responsibility, as I believe we all must do as the citizenry of this country showing some compassion for it’s most vulnerable and a desire to help, is not an expression of guilt. We are not individually, personally responsible for the acts of our ancestors. But we are the inheritors of the consequences.

      And shame….well, that is a difficult emotion indeed. And it has it’s benefits – it pops up when we need reminding that we have something to feel guilty about or, as I believe in this case, we have a tough responsibility as decent people to live up to. No matter how many times we fail, we have work past that shame, not turn away, not get wrapped up in blame-games and pointing of fingers. We have to keep trying.

    • Philip says:

      If the “tribe” has to get every penny it spends pre-approved by the INAC, how exactly are they solely responsible for this horrid state of affairs? You don’t get to walk away this easily, we all have shit on our shoes, every one of us.

  4. Allisntwell says:

    While it is ridiculous that book keeping for the tax dollars sent to native reserves is not subject to regular auditing, it is even more ridiculous that some politicians defend this practice. I hope the Harper government will do what previous majority governments have failed to do and pass a law making it a requirement for band chiefs to detail the spending on reserves. Only then will there be hope that most of the money earmarked for the average native community is spent to the betterment of the community as a whole. A former Indian and Northern Affairs Cabinet Minister who later became Prime Minster of successive majority governments has no excuse for not implementing this.

    • smelter rat says:

      You haven’t been paying attention. The money sent to reserves is most certainly heavily audited, often by 3rd party (ie white) managers.

    • que sera sera says:

      What is ridiculous is for the government to publicly ignore the fact that each FN must file an annual Audit Report and Financial Statement to the feds for annual federal funds to keep flowing to the FN.

      For the feds at this stage of the game to “pretend” they have “no idea” where the money went to in Attiwapiskat is to ignore every and all Audit Report that has been filed with the feds for the past few decades.

      In fact, going into co-management in an attempt to better manage the resources of the FN, is often a result of a federal evaluation of a FN’s annual ARFS. And typically the first step towards third party management.

      What the federal government is conveniently ignoring is that FN’s across Canada (provincially) are totally and completely underfunded for the obligations the Bands are supposed to be meeting.

      $35 million annually to deliver Public Works, Administration, Housing, Education, Social Services and Health programs and services to a remote community of 1300 is not enough money.

      Comparably, it took $1.2 billion to deliver a three day event to accommodate 20 people for the G20 meeting. And $50 million of border security improvement funds to buy the re-election of a Minister.

      Comparably, in some jurisdictions it takes over $14,000,000/year to deliver a ten month education to 1000 school children in southern Canada.

      The myth that FN’s shortfalls in funding are always due to “mismanagement” is exactly that – a convenient myth that denies the underfunded, harsh realities every Band is facing, particularly in remote Northern Canada.

      The myth that the federal government does not know where the money went is exactly that – in light of the fact that ever FN in Canada is compelled to file an annual Audit Report and Financial Statement to keep the federal dollars flowing.

      This willful misinformation & marginalization of FN’s and FN leadership is just another ongoing example of the institutionalized and systemic racism the government of Canada delivers to FNs.

  5. Michael Erskine says:

    First Nation governments are subject to regular audits, and experience a lot more oversight than any municipal government–every spending motion must be sent to IA for approval. Atawapiskat was under co-management when all this hit our ADD media–and there has been a huge amount of misinformation spewed. Lots of band government officials engage in corrupt practices, but the opportunities to take envelopes of cash from shady characters in darkened hotel rooms are somewhat limited.
    The good news is, with the feds fully in charge, there is no opportunity for the government to blame the victim anymore.

  6. Steve T says:

    There are two key elements that are largely to blame for the state of life on reserves, neither of which people want to admit or talk about:

    1) Band leadership is rarely accountable, often inept, and occasionally downright corrupt. We (ie – the general citizenry, and the federal government) bear some of the blame for this by allowing it to continue unchallenged, mainly out of fear of being called racist or paternalistic. The residents of reserves suffer due to our cowardice in this regard.

    2) Living in locations which are frequently far removed from the main centres of population and services is an inefficient and expensive proposition. There are rarely any natural economic reasons for people to be in these locations. Delivering proper services will always be substantially more difficult and expensive in these locations. We need to openly discuss whether it is the best approach going forward – but again, no one has the guts to do so.

    As decade after decade has shown, simply dumping more money into reserves is not the answer. We have created generations of dependency through our unwillingness to ask hard questions and apply solutions that may not be popular. Until that changes, neither will the state of life on reserves.

    • smelter rat says:

      They’re living in remote locations, because the Great White Father moved them there, promising all would be well.

    • JStanton says:

      … I couldn’t be more direct or succinct at describing the problems than this.

      It’s understandable that no politician wants to take it on – it will take decades just to fix the governance issues, and the process is perilous for all concerned.

      Ironically, Mr. Harper’s signature style may be just what is needed here. Less talk and more rapid “imposition” of decent living standards across all reserves and Northern hamlets.

      And why stop there? Lets do the same across all rural and urban communities as well.


    • frmr disgruntled Con now happy Lib says:

      Pity that First Nations still claim territory that will slow down the progress of the Enbridge Pipeline Project, eh, Mr. Tulk?…….I hope they stonewall your party’s pet project(after Keystone) for years……

      • Steve T says:

        Funny – Gord’s comment was about empowering the aboriginal people rather than maintaining their child-like treatment, and yet it gets turned around into a comment about a land claim.

    • smelter rat says:

      Anytime I hear the phrase “these people” I know I’m dealing with a racist.

      • Steve T says:

        How convenient to use this as a method for cutting off all debate. Whenever you don’t agree with something, brand it as “racist” based on some innocuous piece of the discussion. Thereby proving my original point – no one will let this discussion occur without playing the racist card whenever it suits them.

        • smelter rat says:

          Take your hood off and look at the big picture.

        • Paul says:

          It’s the old-standby leftist debating tactic: simply respond to any and all points by calling the opponent a “racist,” “fascist,” “misogynist,” or “______phobe,” and repeat ad nauseum. Sure beats the hell out of actually thinking, doesn’t it?

      • Chris says:

        Excellent writing, isn’t it.

      • smelter rat says:

        Changing the channel again…remember, I’m keeping track now.

      • Is that what you will be telling your child whose lungs are destroyed by mould? Is that what you will be telling your child? We didn`t get you to a safe place because that was the land that they gave us?

      • Pat says:

        You know what, though. My family lived in Ireland for hundreds and hundreds of years, working the land. When the standard of living got worse in the 1840s, we left that land. Saying that my family was any less attached to the land we farmed or the country that we loved than the aboriginal people in Canada would be a lie. There is a reason why the Irish in Canada have held so tightly to their heritage, even after many, many generations.

        When life becomes unbearable, you make sacrifices. They are living in desolate areas that cannot sustain them. That doesn’t mean they cannot maintain their culture. There are many cultures in this world that had a land-culture, but have made a successful transition to a more modern society.

        I spend 95% of my time on Kinsella’s not-a-blog refuting all of Gord’s craziness, but not this time. You cannot expect anyone to be successful on those reserves. More than than, but keeping them on reserve as the Indian Act has, we are actually damaging our economy as well as our society. They are the youngest population in Canada, and we could certainly use that workforce in the coming years rather than have them languish in filth and squalor.

    • JStanton says:

      … as someone said above gord, “You haven’t been paying attention.”.

      Contemporary Inuit and Indians are not “pre-colombian”, so do not follow whatever cultural behavior people imagine existed then. Their behavior today reflects the specific, contemporary environments in which they live.

      And they already ARE Canadians, “with all of the rights, privledges AND responsibilities that entails”. What you really meant, I would imagine, is that they should be made to be more like you.

      The kelowna accord was an attempt to bring closure to a process that has been going on for decades, to decide and enable each parties rights, responsibilities and resources. In its absence, we have no closure, and people continue to live in limbo.

      What you are proposing is that we complete the process of conquest, and subjugate “these people” entirely…. that they should be forced to become suburban consumers with your values and world view.

      Perhaps they don’t want to be you, gord.


      • JStanton says:

        … it matters not where their ancient ancestors emerged from, or whether they themselves conquered others in order to inhabit the land they did prior to subjugation by Europeans. Their current state of affairs is a direct consequence of colonialism, and we who inherit it’s benefits are, like it or not, responsible for correcting its errors. This is not only altruistic, it is also self-serving insofar as it enables social stability and greater prosperity for Canada as a whole.

        Moreover, far too often we hear a perspective that continues to perpetrate our colonial past. This perspective pre-supposes that cultural influences are one way – that noble white people are raising-up the savages for their betterment.

        Anyone who has spent time in Northern hamlets quickly recognizes that this is fundamentally an impressive, resourceful culture, despite the enormous social dis-location and economic hardship forced on them as a consequence of their being robbed of their historic way of life over such a brief time. Europeans had thousands of years to shift from being hunter-gatherers, to farmers, and then to towns-people. The Inuit were forced to do it in a generation. That they exist now at all, is something of a marvel.

        Inuit culture, has little tolerance for slow or stupid. It cultivates fast, agile minds, and an unbelievable toughness. These are cultural traits that we can all benefit from.

        Incidentally, I would back a team of Inuit MBAs over those from Forest Hill.

        Regarding your penchant for Chicago School apologists, I thing I’ll give “Dances with Zealotry” a miss. I have to manage my heart rate.

        To assume that distilling social interaction into an economic transaction can solve problems, is narrow minded and short sited. Oh, it can be done – we see prostitution and its effects everyday, but its nobody’s first choice, and it never ends well.


      • JStanton says:

        … making them completely subject to unfettered market forces will worsen, not improve their lot. It hasn’t worked well anywhere, for anyone..

        As for my “happy place”; I don’t need to start reviewing old-world, discredited tin-pot theories in order to arrive there honestly. You are welcome to visit gord, but you have to do the work first. Insight is accumulative.


    • smelter rat says:

      If the Great White Fathers had had any sense of the value of what the land in Westbank would turn out to be, you can be assured that the Band would never have had a sniff of it

    • TheSilentObserver says:

      While I honestly don’t want to be seen to be putting words into anybody’s mouth, I felt that the sentiments you expressed above bore an assimilationist and racialist tone. You mention that these bands are prospering due to their location…on their traditional land. Groups like the Cree were traditionally nomadic, a lifestyle which would be hard to maintain today, though their settled existance in the tundra of Northern Ontario, as anybody who has watched the news these past few days could say, is deplorable, dependant, and unsustainable, though there is a question of reversing the question. As well, in regards to your suggestion that it wasn’t due to native customs and possession over traditional land that allowed natives to prosper, is your suggestion then that natives should abandon their customs and cultures in order to enter the free market economy that played a part in their historical marginalization? I’m done with QP style bombastic statements, but is that honest to goodness what you are suggesting here? If so, that’s the exact, same, paternalistic style of thinking that did, in fact, lead to residential schools and other forms of marginalization and ethnocide

  7. We must expect this. Many pols and bureaucrats start their careers at the municipal level. That’s their training ground. When we tolerate poor decision-making there we have no right to expect better when they make it to the ‘big show’.

  8. wannabeapiper says:

    You can not take the shame of our nation upon yourself. Doing nothing would have made you a ‘failure’. I suspect you know that.

    This is so profundly sad and so unacceptable, that I can not find an appropriate response within me to express my violent outrage..

    My daughter teaches on a reserve north of Rainy River and it seems to be well organized and I think has a fair bit of tourism, so they have an industry and are a proud and productive people. Other reserves seem to have simply given up and lost hope. They are adrift.

    ‘The rate of violent crime per capita in Nunavut is nine times what it is in the rest of Canada. The homicide rate is around 1,000 per cent of the Canadian average. And the number of crimes reported to the police have more than doubled in the dozen years since the territory was formed. If it were an independent country, Nunavut’s crime statistics would place it in the realm of South Africa or Mexico’.

    What a f@#%ing mess.

    • Raymond says:

      You’re quite correct, Gord.

      I spent time as bush-pilot in the north, where I routinely flew into many islolated communities. Some comparatively good, others absolutely appalling…third-world conditions worse than you could imagine. Most haven’t a clue until they’ve seen it for themselves. Handing out money then turning away & letting the recipients do with it what they please isn’t doing 1st Canadians any favors whatsoever. Financial dependency is as much the problem as other evils that plague these communities. The picture I left with suggests that assimilation & acceptance (from both sides) is the only way to fix this mess.

      And it is a mess.

    • Philip says:

      You don’t post often, wannabepiper, but when you do it’s always worth reading.

    • Ken says:

      Who’s “we”?

  9. Cam Prymak says:

    Repeal the Indian Act and then what?

    • Cam Prymak says:

      “Essentially provide as much support as possible for them to assimilate into the canadian fabric.”

      You can’t say they’re a nation and then say it’s time to assimilate, that’s really talking out of both sides of your mouth.

  10. Darren K says:

    I would have to agree with Gord and Raymond on this one – and I rarely agree with Gord.

    I spent much of the 80’s working in Native or Indian, or 1st Canadian communities. Some, which were well managed by the band, had very prosperous people and communities. Others, who had essentially con men and women working the band politics lived in absolute poverty, in less than 3rd world conditions, while the band administrators lived very well. I travelled through these communities for 8 years in Ontario, Alberta, BC and the then North West Territories. I have seen a lot most Canadians would not understand, or believe.

    I don’t know the answer to this problem, but throwing more money at it won’t solve it. Cutting up the country won’t solve it either. A passion to solve it by both Government, and Band Governments are the only way I see this being solved. The problem is, I just don’t see that kind of passion on either side. Harper wants to be a dictator, and the band governments are and have always been afraid of governments.

    Nope, this doesn’t look solvable right now. More commitment by everyone is needed.

  11. PB says:

    I understand your concern, but as one who has been involved in this for many years I offer the substance of this editorial: http://www.nationalpost.com/news/Communities+survive/5793590/story.html

  12. GPAlta says:

    If you want to know why there are problems on reserves, you just have to realize that every difficult thing that governments, NGOs, and communities have achieved over the years has been made a higher priority than every difficult thing that they have failed to achieve.

    People working together can achieve anything that they truly make their highest priority, and the mere fact that these problems continue shows that we have not made solving them a priority, in fact we may have made exacerbating them a higher priority.

    Successive Canadian governments have fought for decades in the UN to prevent clean water from being declared a human right. Perhaps some of the energy that was put into that fight could have been put into actually providing clean water for every Canadian. Who could possibly benefit from this diplomatic effort? (and the excuse that accepting clean water as a right could possibly force us to share our water with the US is so ridiculous that it is amazing it was ever spoken–we are under no obligation to provide US citizens with any other human rights)

    Most of the inferior infrastructure on reserves was built by non-aboriginal profiteers, who have not been held accountable for cheating their clients, even though it is in the end the Government of Canada (meaning all of us) who is being cheated. Again, who benefits? I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised to find out that companies that make money cheating reserves have substantially more influence with MPs in their communities than the people of the reserve do, it is the only explanation for why this imbalance of blame continues.

  13. Steve T says:

    Smelter Rat: Not possible to reply past a certain number of “levels”, so starting this as a new thread.

    Your ad-hominem attacks on Tulk and myself (“racist”, “take the hood off”, etc…) demonstrate the exact problem with any debate about aboriginal issues. When the discussion gets into thorny areas, folks like you just regress into name-calling. No one wants to be called a racist, never mind perceived as one, so the debate ends. Never mind that name-calling doesn’t really prove any point – but for 30+ years it has served certain agendas very well.

    I challenge you to actually rebut the points made, rather than throwing out the racist card (or allusions thereof). If you don’t have an intelligent response, perhaps that should give you pause and make you wonder if perhaps a valid point is being made.

    • Philip says:

      Did you actually make any points in your previous posts? Perhaps it was buried under the weight of your self-righteousness.

  14. smelter rat says:

    I challenge you to bite me. The truth is out there, I’m not going to Google it for you.

  15. patrick deberg says:

    When I moved from Ont to the Yukon for 8 years I learned about the institutional trapping of racism. At first I found it hard to believe that individual people could hate natives so much. It didn’t make sense that some of these people I went to church with harboured such rancor. Working in the trades I got to meet the best and the worst. But I learned about what the Native population had to deal with. One fellow told me as a teenager he would pick up five of his freinds and they would cruse around till the gang would find a native hitchhiking and pick him up and drive him to the outskirts and then the five of them would beat him to a pulp. And they would do this over and over year after year. And some of the things they would do to the women can’t be repeated here. I had the opportunity to set up a business for a native fellow through the band and what I discovered very quickly was that the white business guys that hated them the most lined up and took all the government money given to them and charged them far more and laughed at their ineptitude while all the while driving them to impoverisment. There excuse for destroying them was always the same. They are now learning free enterprise! The big joke was how do you get an indian into small business? Give him a big one and wait! Yet these were the same people that would pull that right wing shit all the time. Really turned me off the holier than thou types within a religious framework. Thank God there was the people who tried to continue to reach out failure after failure. If you hold another person in contempt you are the one who loses. I saw some real good and real bad there. But nothing turned my stomach than the smarmy bastards who voted redneck that were living better and richer and with more comfort than some of these natives would ever see but hated them just because they could find it some sort of badge of courage among their little circle of friends. I couldn’t make sense of it then and still can’t now. But they know who they are now don’t they?

  16. Lawrence Stuart says:

    Maybe the time has come to rethink what these communities should be like, and invest accordingly. Stop trying for suburbia in the bush ($250,000 to build one house!!??)

    Use more local materials, skills, techniques. One of the problems is these prefab houses get built, and people don’t have the money or the skills to maintain them (and they’re also crap to start with, often). I’m probably going to get flamed for saying this, but a I’d rather live in a functioning yurt than in a rotting prefab. Simple, dry, warm accommodation with good sanitation that can be maintained locally. Save the big money for improving community services, like health, education, water, and sewer.

  17. matt says:

    Harper ought to crib a page from the (old school) Liberal playbook and set up a policy conference. Something to feed into a second White Paper effort. No holds barred, the government at arm’s length. Something that would consider whether the Kelowna Accord / self-governance approach ought to accelerate, or if moving people off reserves ought to be an option – maybe both.

    In terms of a solution, the status quo can’t remain. But reserves can’t be undone – severing the connection to the land would eviscerate aboriginal culture. Reserves have to exist in a different way, and INAC (now AANAC) has to administer in a different way – maybe not at all. One tempting thought is to dump responsibility onto the provinces and away from the feds. Even if only on a temporary basis, e.g., pending the band achieving certain self-governance milestones.

  18. Village Idiot says:

    The solution is politically impossible to implement–abolish the Indian act. As a Liberal, I endorse another great Liberal’s proposal:

    “Trudeau called an election for June 1968 and after winning a majority appointed Chrétien to the Ministry of Indian Affairs and Northern Development. He quickly realized that the native peoples were faced with immense problems and challenges and in a 1969 white paper, which Chrétien wrote the preface for, the abolition of the Indian Act was recommended and a whole new approach in dealing with the issues suggested.”


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