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Stereotype of the Month Entry
(1/24/02)


Another Stereotype of the Month entry:

It's not more money native Indians need
We can't spend our way out of the shambles we have created

Vancouver Sun
Thursday, January 24, 2002

In debates on public policy, especially within governments, there is a reflex that says if something isn't working well, spend more.

Sometimes that works, after a fashion. Other times it doesn't work at all, and compounds ingrained problems. One painful example is the federal Indian Act, the framework for relations between native people and other Canadians.

The 500-year tragedy of North American natives has led in recent decades to ample liberal guilt, partly expiated by money, and then more money.

Robert Nault, minister of Indian affairs, is working toward basic improvements in the 126-year-old Indian Act, an often-amended legislative monstrosity that wastes money the way leaky pipes waste water. That merits the support of everyone who cares about letting native Canadians into the mainstream of our society, and about public spending.

Total federal spending on natives is estimated to be about $15,000 for each individual, compared to less than $4,000 for each Canadian over all. The Indian affairs department alone will spend about $4.3 billion annually on registered Indians, about half of the total native population of 1.4 million. More than $3.2 billion goes directly to band councils.

These totals have been reached through years of doing more of the same. On the face of it, though, little of that spending is effective.

Almost every social problem hits natives hardest: unemployment; family violence and violence generally, including violent deaths; alcohol and drug abuse; numerous ailments linked to living standards and nutrition; fetal-alcohol syndrome; poor pre-natal care and child development; low education; the list goes on.

This cannot continue if Canada wishes to consider itself a fair society.

What, then, should we do?

Mr. Nault, a northern Ontario MP, is planning what amounts to a rewriting of the Indian Act. The most important reform would change the way reserves are governed.

Almost 400,000 natives live on some 2,500 reserves. Many are little totalitarian states where nepotistic band councils control housing, policing, jobs, schooling. Property rights are disdained.

The result is islands of third world poverty and despair amidst Canada's plenty; too many chiefs driving shiny SUVs past squalid housing and desperate people. And the majority of chiefs and other leaders, doing their honest best in desperate situations, are handcuffed by an archaic system.

Mr. Nault aims to reform election of band councils, end patronage abuses, improve financial accountability and make reserve government democratic and open. He aims for Parliament to enact within two years the first amendments to this part of the Indian Act in half a century.

Mr. Nault has tried to sugarcoat the changes, linking them with other self-government initiatives, including more control over land management. But many chiefs are resisting strenuously.

In December's budget, Prime Minister Jean Chretien, a former Indian affairs minister, made it clear he wants his legacy to include better conditions for natives. It included $185 million more, over two years, for "early-intervention" programs for native children.

But it's not more money that native people need. They need the same things everyone needs: a sense of worth and responsibility; education and other tools to build a decent life through their own effort; democratic and civil institutions to permit and protect those things.

Turning always to more spending is part of what U.S. President George W. Bush calls "the soft racism of lower expectations." Native people can solve their problems. They need only the opportunity.

But a rising flood of money, much of it ill-spent, creates only dependence, particularly when tied to reserves that have little or no prospects of economic development.

Dr. Nault's changes are one step towards solving urgent problems. He should avoid the trap of incrementalism, and move quickly.

Canada cannot build on a foundation of failure; we must strive to find new directions rather than continued growth within the current system and the industry of comfortable lawyers, lobbyists, consultants and native leaders it has created.

Canadians need to encourage pursuit of broader, straighter, faster routes out of the miserable shambles we've created for our native people.

Comments c/o Murdoch Davis, Editor-in-Chief, Southam News, Suite 200, 151 Sparks St., Ottawa, Ont. K1P 5E3, or commentsn@sns.southam.ca

Copyright 2002 Vancouver Sun

Rob's reply
I'm so sick of commentaries that blame the victim for their circumstances. I've rebutted these arguments dozens of times. Someday I'll post something that refutes this attack once and for all.

Let's look briefly at how this editorial stereotypes and insults Native people, even though it pretends it doesn't:

First, the statistic that Canada spends $15,000 per person on Native people vs. $4,000 on everyone else is worthless because it doesn't normalize the two groups. Of course Aboriginal people cost the government more. They live in rural areas more often, have poorer schools and hospitals, and need more money to overcome history's documented injustices.

The fairer test would be to compare an Aboriginal town to an Anglo town that had roughly the same access to water, electricity, food, schools, jobs, health care, social services, etc. If the Aboriginal town spent more money than the Anglo under the same conditions, then the editorial would have something to complain about.

Clearly the starting points aren't equal, and clearly the editorial blames Native people for that. It first claims many reservations are "little totalitarian states where nepotistic band councils control housing, policing, jobs, schooling," and then calls them all "islands of third world poverty and despair amidst Canada's plenty."

It specifically blames "too many chiefs driving shiny SUVs past squalid housing and desperate people," but then forgives "the majority of chiefs and other leaders, doing their honest best in desperate situations." Hello? If the majority of chiefs aren't the problem, then neither are "totalitarian states" or "nepotistic band councils," which are presumably the chiefs' responsibility. Therefore, something else must be to blame. Could it possibly be a lack of funding and other resources equal to the problems at hand?

This editorial tries to have it both ways. It stereotypes big, bad Indian chiefs as their people's own worst enemy. Again, it's a classic case of blaming the victim.

Related links
Greedy Indians
Indians as welfare recipients


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