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Stereotype of the Month Entry

Another Stereotype of the Month entry:

Preferential treatment of Indians isn't working

Barbara Yaffe
Vancouver Sun

Friday, January 03, 2003

As Canadians, we're concerned with politically correctness to the point where we pursue policies that harm rather than help native Indians.

Aboriginal health spending and associated outcomes provide a perfect case in point. Simon Fraser University professor John Richards explores this topic in the latest issue of the opinion journal Inroads.

"Out of fear of being accused of racism, most non-aboriginal leaders have become mute on the complexities of how the races can live together."

True enough. We've developed a policy of throwing money at native people in the form of band transfers and welfare, actions that skew human motivations and don't always serve the Indians' best interests.

So, even as Ottawa spends half the federal health budget $1.5 billion a year on health care for Indians, outcomes don't always reflect anticipated benefits.

Between 1975 and 1990, the spending did bear some fruit in that aboriginal life expectancy improved. But since 1990 life expectancies have plateaued and continue trailing other Canadians.

Average life expectancy for aboriginal males is now 67; 74 for non-aboriginals. For aboriginal women, it's 77; 82 for other females.

The prevalence of AIDS is 33 per 100,000 aboriginals but only three per 100,000 for others; 62 per cent of Indians smoke compared to 29 per cent of others. Thirteen per cent of aboriginal males but only four per cent of other males have heart problems.

With all the spending on health care for aboriginals, what gives? The answer: Some of the spending is counterproductive.

That's because health is also affected by other factors among them, access to education and productive employment.

Easy access to welfare has prompted more and more Indians to abandon traditional hunting and trapping and become sedentary.

Most reserves are isolated, jobs hard to find. Regardless, Indians can stay put because those government cheques keep on coming.

"The politically sensitive question must be asked: Is it a good idea for Indian Affairs to award large transfers to band councils, roughly a quarter of which are devoted to welfare?"

Prof. Richards argues federal benefits should go to individual Indians who can then make their own decisions about leaving the reserve, becoming educated and getting work.

Treaty negotiations should focus, says Prof. Richards, less on income transfers or resource royalty payments to reserve Indians and more on access to resources with employment potential.

And, he says, greater emphasis must be placed on education for on-reserve youth a challenge since schools in isolated rural areas tend to be less effective.

At present, only a third of on-reserve aboriginals finish high school.

Regardless of artificial incentives to stay on reserves, a growing number of native people are leaving. Nonetheless, they continue to have health outcomes worse than other Canadians, though they're better off than those on reserve in terms of education and income.

Prof. Richards wants tougher access to welfare for employable urban Indians, and programs to counter the drop-out phenomenon.

"There is a need for pragmatic alternatives to the status quo," he says. "However, few in the senior reaches of the federal government are prepared to engage these matters . . . .

"The result is an unhealthy self-censorship in public and, behind closed doors, an ideologically constrained policy discourse."

The co-publisher of Inroads recommends aboriginal health services like health services for the rest of us be delivered by the provinces (with appropriate compensation from Ottawa), and "undertaken in a manner transparently equal to all, independent of race."

"Equal to all, independent of race" is a philosophy that tends to guide public policy except when it comes to aboriginals.

The preferential tip-toe treatment of Canada's native Indians not only fosters resentment among non-aboriginals, it isn't working. It isn't improving the lives of aboriginals.

Sure, Indians should be compensated through treaties for past land losses. But government programs are sapping aboriginals of the incentive to strive with determination and pursue personal goals, as the rest of us must.

And Prof. Richards is right attacking government policies that grant special rights and benefits to aboriginal people is politically incorrect.

So, we all keep our mouths shut. As a result, in the areas of health, education, employment, incarceration and suicide rates, native people suffer mightily.


Copyright 2003 Vancouver Sun

Rob's comment
Besides the obvious implication that today's Indians are lazy bums, Yaffe also implies that all Indians were hunters and trappers. Wrong.

More of Yaffe in the Stereotype of the Month contest
"Communal nature" of reserves destroys Indians' initiative
Yaffe:  Chiefs stretch hands for money but do nothing

Related links
Indians as welfare recipients
The "outdated" reservation system

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