Another Stereotype of the Month entry:
The system isn't working, but a bunch of federal programs, tax exemptions and services encourage Indians to stay put
April 22, 2004
It comes down to this: Canada spends $8 billion a year on aboriginals, yet they are among the poorest, most unhealthy citizens in the land.
How many times must it be said? The system ain't working.
In a bid to fix what ails, Prime Minister Paul Martin chaired the first Canada-Aboriginal Peoples Round-table in Ottawa on Monday -- "traditional Algonquin territory," as Martin put it.
The PM noted native Indians are the fastest-growing segment of Canada's population and declared: "We must break the cycle of poverty, indignity and injustice in which so many aboriginal Canadians live."
To that end, Martin listed several new bureaucracies created on behalf of natives: a cabinet committee on aboriginal affairs, a parliamentary secretary on aboriginal affairs, a new Inuit secretariat, a centre for First Nations Government.
Think for a moment: When was the last time a government bureaucracy did more good than harm?
No. More government isn't the answer for aboriginal people.
What is? It's difficult to say, given most of us are outsiders in this debate, though we do pay the shot.
The Canadian Taxpayers Federation is offering some common sense ideas. In a report titled Apartheid -- Canada's Ugly Secret, the organization calls for the abolition of reserves.
The communal nature of reserve life clearly hasn't served native Indians well. Fully 80 per cent of federal cash spent on aboriginals is funnelled through the band chiefs and councillors.
With no requirement for council to reveal financial records to reserve members, the auditor-general or taxpayers, and human nature being what it is, the system is wide open to abuse and corruption. Have you ever met a chief living in a substandard house?
If there's inadequate housing for many on reserves in 2004, where the heck is all the tax cash going? Ask the chief; see if he'll answer you.
The average population on a reserve is 640, which makes economic self-sufficiency all but impossible, the taxpayers' federation says. Accordingly, some bands have jobless rates as high as 90 per cent.
Because reserve land is owned by the Crown and managed by band councils, the individual reserve dweller never gets to own his home. Thus, he can never accumulate equity and use it to borrow money to start a business. The communal nature of reserve life fails utterly to nurture individual initiative.
Yet, with a bunch of federal programs, tax exemptions and special services provided on-reserve, there's a strong incentive for aboriginals to stay put.
In spite of those incentives, native people increasingly are choosing to leave. While 71 per cent lived on reserve 25 years ago, only 57 per cent did as of two years ago. According to a separate C.D. Howe Institute report released Monday, the number currently stands at just 30 per cent.
Perhaps in time this trend will make reserves irrelevant and that may be a good thing. But Ottawa will have to start recognizing the reality of withering reserves and find ways to transfer assistance to native people living in cities.
The C.D. Howe report, Improved Education is the Key to Raising Aboriginal Achievement, by Simon Fraser University profs John Richards and Aidan Vining, reveals just 41 per cent of youth on reserve complete high school, compared with 56 per cent who graduate off reserve (70 per cent of non-aboriginals graduate.)
The report says aboriginal students tend to perform better in schools where nonaboriginals also perform better. Indeed, in Ontario a healthy 75 per cent of aboriginal kids graduate from high school.
This suggests young aboriginals in good schools, off reserve, have a better outlook than those left behind on reserves. Individual achievement is at the core of a successful life.
Of course, all the think tanks in the world can offer policy ideas; if leaders of native organizations are still pushing the reserve option -- as they are -- these insights are for naught because government has a tendency to pander to the native bigwigs.
It's time for individual native people, perhaps the educated young people, to take control and push for change.
© The Gazette (Montreal) 2004
>> How many times must it be said? The system ain't working. <<
Which system: the aboriginals' land-based reserve system, or the aboriginals' government-funded health, education, and welfare system? These are two separate things that could exist independently of each other. Yet—typical of Yaffe's muddled thinking—she conflates them and claims they're both not working.
Clearly the government-funded reserve system hasn't succeeded yet. The question is, why? Do government programs sap aboriginal people of drive and initiative? Or are the aboriginal reserves too small and remote to sustain the local economy?
I don't know, but they're two separate problems. People who collect welfare can improve their lives, and so can people who live in remote areas.
>> "We must break the cycle of poverty, indignity and injustice in which so many aboriginal Canadians live." <<
Yes. The question is, how? To answer that question, we first must understand what causes the cycle of poverty, etc.
Yaffe believes the government-funded reserve system is the source of the problem. Her evidence? Nothing except the continued existence of poverty.
One could examine each of the components of Yaffe's theory. Is government funding the problem? If so, then Canada's urban welfare recipients should be equally bereft of drive and initiative. Is that the case?
Is the reserve system the problem? If so, then nonaboriginal rural communities should also be suffering poverty and injustice. Is that the case?
Yaffe has failed to identify a specific factor that's causing the aboriginals' problems. What if the problem is neither the government-funded welfare programs nor the land-based reserve system? What if it's persistent, structural racism against aboriginals? Then what?
>> Think for a moment: When was the last time a government bureaucracy did more good than harm? <<
The most noteworthy time was when Franklin Delano Roosevelt's New Deal "bureaucracy" helped rescue the United States from the Great Depression. I'm not sure when the last time was. Perhaps the FBI caught a criminal today, or Homeland Security intercepted a terrorist. Perhaps the National Institute of Health cured a disease today, or the FDA approved a beneficial drug. Who knows?
>> No. More government isn't the answer for aboriginal people. <<
But it is the answer for defense contractors and security/surveillance companies, apparently. Funny how corporate CEOs never want to wean themselves from the public dole.
>> The communal nature of reserve life clearly hasn't served native Indians well. <<
Why don't we let them determine that, o great white mother? In fact, Indians are free to leave their reserves and join the mainstream. Those that stay must think that's better than the alternative, right?
>> Fully 80 per cent of federal cash spent on aboriginals is funnelled through the band chiefs and councillors. <<
If true, so what? It's called government. How much of Canada's tax revenue goes through its prime ministers and parliament...all of it? How much do Canada's tax collectors give directly to its citizens...none?
>> Have you ever met a chief living in a substandard house? <<
Have you ever met a president, prime minister, or CEO living in a substandard house?
If the issue is that chiefs are misspending $8 billion, are a few luxury homes or cars really the problem? Yaffe asks where the money is going; well, where does she think it's going? Really, let's see her do the math. If 100 chiefs have spent $800,000 each on luxury cars or homes, that's $80 million down the drain. Okay, that's not good, but what about the other $7.2 billion?
Unless Yaffe has a better theory, the money is likely going to pay for health, education, and welfare services. These services may not be working for a variety of reasons--but most likely because the funding isn't sufficient. If the government is spending $7.2 billion but the problems require $72 billion, the chiefs aren't the problem.
So Yaffe's chief-bashing is a dodge. She wants to blame all Indians for being corrupt, venal, welfare cheats, but that would be too clearly racist. So she attacks the few chiefs rather than the many "braves."
But she's implicitly attacking every Indian. According to Yaffe, the chiefs are so clever that they're enriching themselves with impunity. The rest of the Indians are too dumb to throw the corrupt chiefs out or see the "flaws" of their reserve system. Lacking initiative (and, Yaffe implies, insight and intelligence), they need white people like her to save them.
>> If there's inadequate housing for many on reserves in 2004, where the heck is all the tax cash going? <<
All what money? Yaffe hasn't established that $8 billion is disproportionate to the Natives' population or their unmet needs. In the US, the federal government spends some $3,000 per person on Native health care—less than federal prisoners get. It doesn't matter what the total amount is if it's not enough to meet the needs.
>> The average population on a reserve is 640, which makes economic self-sufficiency all but impossible, the taxpayers' federation says. <<
Native populations smaller than that have succeeded through Indian gaming, which suggests that size isn't the problem.
>> Because reserve land is owned by the Crown and managed by band councils, the individual reserve dweller never gets to own his home. Thus, he can never accumulate equity and use it to borrow money to start a business. <<
Borrowing on one's home is only one way to get the capital needed to start a business. And with the huge unemployment rates on reserves, starting businesses or owning homes isn't the main problem. These people may not have enough money to buy a car or a major (or minor) appliance.
>> The communal nature of reserve life fails utterly to nurture individual initiative. <<
This statement is so off-base it isn't funny. First, Yaffe hasn't established that there's not individual initiative. A lack of working capital doesn't mean the people wouldn't start businesses if they had the working capital.
Second, the only "communal nature" she's identified is the collective ownership of property. But outside of reserves, people who are renters or even students start businesses. Owning property is absolutely not a requirement for showing initiative.
>> Yet, with a bunch of federal programs, tax exemptions and special services provided on-reserve, there's a strong incentive for aboriginals to stay put. <<
More likely, familial and cultural ties are the incentives for staying put. These explain why people stay put in nonaboriginal rural areas despite the lack of jobs. But Yaffe doesn't even mention these factors. She's convinced aboriginals—but not white folks, apparently—are in it for the money.
>> According to a separate C.D. Howe Institute report released Monday, the number currently stands at just 30 per cent....Perhaps in time this trend will make reserves irrelevant and that may be a good thing. <<
Yes. Then Yaffe will have to stop writing her racist screeds about how Indians are lazy welfare bums.
>> if leaders of native organizations are still pushing the reserve option -- as they are -- these insights are for naught because government has a tendency to pander to the native bigwigs. <<
Instead of abolishing the reserves, as Yaffe implicitly proposes, how about honoring the treaties the Natives signed and returning their land to them? If small reserves are the problem, making them larger would be a solution.
Or how about limiting the government rule-making that impedes Native self-sufficiency and making the reserves more autonomous? That would give the aboriginals more control over their destinies.
Don't count on that happening. Whites like Yaffe don't want Indians to grow more powerful. The Indians might gain something at the white folks' expense. No, Yaffe wants Indians to fail, not to succeed. That's why she wants to abolish reserves and force Indians to assimilate. Once she does that, the powers that be can proceed unimpeded.
More of Yaffe in the Stereotype of the Month contest
Yaffe: Welfare saps aboriginals of will to pursue goals
Yaffe: Chiefs stretch hands for money but do nothing
Indians as welfare recipients
The "outdated" reservation system
. . .
All material © copyright its original owners, except where noted.
Original text and pictures © copyright 2007 by Robert Schmidt.
Copyrighted material is posted under the Fair Use provision of the Copyright Act,
which allows copying for nonprofit educational uses including criticism and commentary.
Comments sent to the publisher become the property of Blue Corn Comics
and may be used in other postings without permission.