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Stereotype of the Month Entry

Another Stereotype of the Month entry:

Why do so many native Indians live so poorly?

Barbara Yaffe
Vancouver Sun

Thursday, June 20, 2002

Over and over, the same question gets asked: with billions being funnelled annually to native people, why do so many live such rotten lives?

Even on relatively well-off reserves like Vancouver's Musqueam, there's a run-down character about the place. Homes look like teardowns, piles of trash lie about and too many people are unemployed.

In fact countrywide, nearly half of reserve Indians are on welfare. Fewer than a third of reserve kids graduate from high school. The record isn't much better for urban natives.

This, despite the fact about $7 billion a year in cash and services is transferred to aboriginals.

That's a significant chunk of change when you consider Canada has fewer than a million aboriginals. (Mind, 42 per cent of aboriginals live off reserve and don't benefit from cash flowing to reserves.)

Something is going terribly wrong and the federal government knows it.

Accordingly, Indian Affairs Minister Robert Nault spent 30 months consulting extensively with 10,000 aboriginals — including 200 chiefs, at a cost of $10 million — and has just tabled a new First Nations Governance Act.

The legislation is meant to mark the start of a phase-out of the archaic Indian Act.

Here's what it would do:

- Make band elections and budgeting more accountable and transparent;

- Force bands to develop conflict of interest codes for band councils, and salary guidelines for chiefs;

- Make the Indian Act subject to legal challenge based on the Human Rights Act so that native people who are fired arbitrarily or feel discriminated against would have some recourse;

- Enable bands to pass their own bylaws instead of having to go to the minister for any and every initiative;

A separate proposal by Mr. Nault seeks to improve educational outcomes for aboriginal youth.

Sounds pretty reasonable. But Matthew Coon Come, fiery chief of the Assembly of First Nations, calls the initiative "assimilation. It is legislated extinction."

What baloney. Mr. Coon Come is speaking for chiefs who covet their current power.

What could possibly be nefarious about forcing bands to be accountable to their members in the holding of elections and spending of money?

Besides, government has every right to insist certain standards be met. The cash it transfers to aboriginal people comes straight from taxpayers' pockets.

If the chiefs were generating their own revenues, they might have a case for arguing for full autonomy; but not as long as their hands are out-stretched.

Mr. Coon Come also contends Indian Affairs failed to properly consult with aboriginal people.

More baloney. Mr. Nault set up a Joint Ministerial Advisory Committee. He distributed questionnaires and advertised for input. The AFN early on turned its back on Mr. Nault's governance initiative.

Now the organization is threatening to sue in a bid to thwart the minister's plan.

Given conditions on most reserves, chiefs have one hell of a lot of nerve to complain about any and all new approaches directed their way.

What have the chiefs done to ensure their young people stay in school? What efforts have they made to provide adult education opportunities so jobless aboriginals can acquire new skills? Why are off-reserve band members so often denied their franchise?

Over the years, native people have often complained, while ordinary band members live in despair, their chiefs have beautiful homes and bestow jobs on family and friends.

A group of B.C. aboriginal women met with me recently to share concerns about nepotism, sexism, flouting of the law and favouritism in band governance.

Some aboriginals don't trust their councils to act in their best interests. They'd prefer Ottawa send payments directly to them so they could decide for themselves how to better their lives.

Not a bad idea. On too many reserves, the communal system of governance has yielded miserable living standards.

Perhaps it's time chiefs and councils started experimenting with the notion of divvying up public money and band property to individual natives.

It's true, more accountable government and better budgeting won't bring nirvana to Indians. They need land bases with resource potential, access to venture capital and assistance in adjusting to urban living.

But what Mr. Nault has done this past week is one highly worthy step on a long and winding road.



One thing she forgot to mention is the ... "A group of B.C. aboriginal women met with me recently" .... With all due respect ... if this is the group I am thinking of .... I am not saying they don't have some points ... but Nault just cut them a nice big fat check back about six or eight weeks before the new Act....


Rob's comment
Perhaps the chiefs haven't done as much as they wanted to because of the societal roadblocks and institutional racism Natives face.

Unless Canada is drastically different from the US, the funds received constitute treaty payments, not "cash...straight from taxpayers' pockets." The Canadian government has no moral right and arguably no legal right to tell Natives what to do with their money.

Why do Indians live so poorly? Why do poor white people live so poorly? Do they have chiefs taking their money and misusing it, or are they just worthless bums also? Maybe Yaffe should investigate this problem and report back to us.

This column is another example of "blame the victim for the crime." Lazy, good-for-nothing Indians want a government handout. Ho-hum.

Oh, and calling Native leaders "chiefs" repeatedly serves to paint them as quaint and parochial—not quite of this modern era. In reality, many of these leaders go by titles like "president" or "chairman" and are equivalent to a corporation's chief executive.

More of Yaffe in the Stereotype of the Month contest
"Communal nature" of reserves destroys Indians' initiative
Yaffe:  Welfare saps aboriginals of will to pursue goals

Related links
Canada's First Nations Governance Act is nothing of the sort
Indians as welfare recipients
The big chief

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