FOURTH WORLD LIVING CONDITIONS FOR TOO MANY FIRSTS NATION CANADIAN COMMUNITIES IS A TRAVESTY
I just finished reading a very troubling book, " Invisible North", by Alexandra Shimo, a free lance writer who spent time in the Kashewakan Northern reserve in Ontario.
Alexander flew into the reserve to explore the e coli water pollution caused by a bad water that she found was a myth and spent 6 months learning of the many hardships of the people.
The band of Cree had been moved into an inhospitable flood prone bog far from the prying eyes of Canadians. The only way in and out of the settlement is with expensive air travel. The reserve ranks as a Fourth World Community. Too many First Nation people are confined to poverty. They were displaced from natural resources including the lakes and rivers. The Natives had their lands stolen through theft and fraud. They were obstructed from opening other businesses.
They were excluded from jobs off the reserve through racism. If you take a communityís ability to generate resources and then remove them from making a decent living you end up with racial poverty. In Canada half of First Nation children live in abject poverty. The vast majority of the children do not graduate from school. Alcoholism, drug addiction including sniffing glue/gasolene is often the norm for many young people who admit to attempting and ultimately committing suicide. It is a very sad fact of life for too many impoverished Indigenous teens.
Family violence is the biggest predictor of suicide. After that, the biggest predictors are poverty and unemployment. Having to line up in the cold with your neighbours to receive monthly government welfare cheques brings on a sense of community shame.
Adequate safe housing for the vast majority of Northern reserve peoples are but a distant impossible dream; up to 14 people per dwelling in paper macae mould infested shacks with broken windows and blocked toilets is often the norm. Every once in a while politicians from the South show up for a photo opportunity to take note of the inequalities and in a few months the peopleís concerns are forgotten.
There is one grocery store in Kash for the people to shop to spend their monthly welfare cheques. For a single person on welfare they receive a grand total of $706.00 per month. $376 is for shelter. Try and find a roof over your head for under $400.00. For those who have found work the wages are very low but the costs are more then four times higher then for the majority of Canadians.
The prices are crazy in Kash: $30.00 for a frozen pizzas , $15.00 for a dozen eggs, a bag of three pounds of apples $15.29, a small tin of Klik meat for $5.99. The majority of the teenagers if they attend the government underfunded schools are always hungry.
Unemployment rates for the people of the rez ranges between 80- 90% for the majority of the uneducated unmotivated people. Hard to try and dream of a brighter future when there is little or no help for the present.
Those who do not follow the norm are often described as "Apples", red on the outside and white inside and are not accepted by their people. Outsiders at first are welcome but in time if they try to interfere/change the way of life they are encouraged to leave the village.
Doctors fly into the reserve every two weeks and do their best to help but it is often too little and too late to change. Even a supply of condoms to protect against HIV or unwanted pregnancy are in short supply Not surprising that HIV rates of the people on the reserve are ten times higher then the rest of Canada. Tuberculosis rates are thirty-four times higher then in the general population. Seventy two thousand First Nation people live with undrinkable water and have to boil their water to survive.
The conditions help promote Diabetes rates that are three to five times higher then the general population according to Health Canada. Some First Nation communities have infant mortality up to four times higher on reserves then the rest of the country.
The police officers stay for 16 days and then leave for twelve. The nurses try to stay for three weeks and then go back home for one week. Even the Anglican Minister/teachers returns to their homes every two months. Stressed out health care providers too often resort to alcohol, sleeping pills, and tranquilizers to try and survive the pain they view on a daily basis. Unable to cope with the desperate conditions Alexandra fell apart.
When I was at Saunderís Secondary School the majority of the First Nation high school students from the Oneida/Muncy reserves came to the school. The girls seem to do well but for many young men school in the city was not a happy place to spend their time. I initiated a program for 50 students from the Rez to visit Northern College in South Porcupine to view their many native programs. .
Northern College arranged for the Cree students in Timmins to visit with our kids. The Cree students were housed by people in the community but for the most part the kids went AWOL and after due time where returned home to their communities.
I have a solution to the century long dilemma for our First Nation Peopl: give them the choice to move those from inhospitable out of the way reserves to their own land adjacent to communities in the South where health care, education and chance at employment is feasible. No, I am not talking of assimilation of the people. Millions of others have chosen to leave their homes in distant lands and live in Canada and still keep their customs, language and way of life with a future. Unlike the Americans we Canadians embraces a patch work mentality where you can be appreciated for your diversity.
The Resettlement Program in 1986 in Newfoundland encouraged the rural out-port people to move to designated growth centers rather then stay in the non economically viable areas that had been their homes for many decades. Each householder had to agree to their change of location and the governments of Newfoundland and Canada funded the move and resettlement costs.
The equivalent to-day for our Native people would cost the governments millions of dollars to be proactive. In the long run Canada would save hundreds of millions of dollars and provide a dignified way out of the poverty for our First Nation people.
Harold Cardinal, a Cree activist. summed up the problem for his people: "Tell a person long enough and often enough that they are inferior and more then likely they will accept the false image that
you have thrust upon them." If things do not change for our First Nation people sadly they will stay the same.
The 150th Anniversary for Canadians was not a celebration for the First Nation people. Sadly they have been exploited and left adrift by the Federal Government. It is time to make amends.
There can be no meaningful reconciliation for the First Nation people without proper restitution.
Len Lesser is a counselor in Dorchester. I am interested in your views; drop me an e mail firstname.lastname@example.org