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Violence, Suicides and Social Ills: Welcome To Our Native Reserves

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  • Violence, Suicides and Social Ills: Welcome To Our Native Reserves

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    Violence, Suicides and Social Ills: Welcome To Our Native Reserves

    By DAWN WALTON and _MURRAY CAMPBELL_ (mailto:[email protected])
    Thursday, November 24, 2005 Posted at 5:03 AM EST
    From Thursday's Globe and Mail

    Calgary and Toronto — The gangs have names such as Indian Posse and Redd
    Their members tap recruits as young as 10 to peddle crack cocaine. Beatings
    and drive-by shootings have become their calling cards as RCMP from the
    Hobbema detachment issue almost daily news releases about violence at a cluster of
    reserves south of Edmonton.
    "We think it was always simmering there somewhat because we would get
    complaints, but it never boiled over," RCMP Constable Darrel Bruno said.
    "Then, all of a sudden, people got more and more aggressive toward each other
    with regard to these gangs."
    Hobbema is the community at the hub of four native reserves -- Samson,
    Montana, Ermineskin and Louis Bull -- where a staggering list of social ills
    plagues the 12,000 people who live on them.
    The unemployment rate is more than 80 per cent. Drug and alcohol abuse is
    rampant. The suicide rate is high. Child-welfare caseloads have swelled 59 per
    cent between 2000 and 2004.
    The RCMP caseload jumped 68 per cent. Constable Bruno, a 22-year veteran of
    the force, said young people in Hobbema are influenced by peer pressure and
    end up in gangs in place of the family. He came to Hobbema 7½ years ago, but he
    spent his childhood on the Samson reserve.
    "Back then," he said of his youth, "I remember it being relatively quiet. I
    remember the elders had a lot of respect. When they spoke, you listened.
    That's gone by the wayside now."
    This is the bumpy road that Canada's natives are travelling. There is another
    road that wasn't taken that offered a vastly different future. It still has
    a certain allure for Canadians who observe the dismal conditions in native
    communities and wonder whether radical change isn't needed.
    In 1969, the newly elected government of Pierre Trudeau proposed such a
    radical break in a slim policy statement that proposed undoing the link between
    the Crown and Canada's native peoples that had existed for more than 200 years.
    Ottawa wanted to end the separate status of natives, abolish treaties and
    allow the sale of reserves.
    Under the policy in this unofficial white paper, natives would have become
    full citizens of Canada without federal government guarantees to protect their
    lands or identity or to sustain their standard of living. The federal
    Department of Indian Affairs would be dismantled within five years and, after that,
    the provinces would be expected to treat natives as non-natives.
    One prominent leader called the policy "cultural genocide" but Jean Chrétien,
    who was then the minister of Indian Affairs, defended it. "Canada cannot
    seek the just society and keep discriminatory legislation on its books," he
    Native leaders were surprised and angered by the proposals because they
    didn't reflect the previous year's consultations. (In fact, an original document
    advocating the sort of native involvement on display today at a first
    ministers meeting in Kelowna, B.C., was heavily rewritten by a senior policy adviser
    in the Prime Minister's Office.) Mr. Chrétien fought for the white paper
    despite the evidence that native leaders hated it. In July, 1969, he met 30
    leaders of the Union of Ontario Indians in Toronto and listened to their
    complaints about his department.
    As he left the two-hour meeting, he exploded.
    "They don't like the department and I proposed to phase out the department
    and then they want to keep it," he said.
    A few days later, he pleaded his case for a radical break from the past in an
    article in The Globe and Mail. "Many will criticize but few will defend the
    present system," the future prime minister said. "The persistent control of
    other peoples' lives is ruinous to them and futile for government."
    Assimilation wasn't a new idea.
    Indeed, people around Hobbema say that the government's desire for "equality"
    is to blame for many of the problems they are facing.
    They point to the legacy of residential schools, set up by the federal
    government in partnership with religious organizations, which were designed to
    assimilate aboriginal children into "white" society.
    About 100,000 children attended these schools over the past century or so --
    about 100 schools were operating at any one time.
    Among them were the parents of the troublemakers around Hobbema who were
    yanked from their homes and in many cases suffered physical, mental and even
    sexual abuse, before most residential schools were closed in the mid-1970s.
    That system stole an important component of family values -- parenting,
    according to the elders.
    "A lot of people that did come back lost that sense of belonging, sense of
    identity, loss of culture, language," Constable Bruno said. "A lot of them feel
    that is part of the problems we're dealing with now. Then, when people
    understand that, they have a better understanding of what we're dealing with
    Yesterday, the federal government offered $2-billion in reparations to former
    students and their children. At the same time, Hobbema's 32-member
    detachment learned that it would get nine more officers.
    Last year, the detachment handled an average of 292 cases an officer. That
    compared with an Alberta average of 116 cases an officer and the national
    caseload of 66 cases an officer. Last year, the Hobbema RCMP received 899
    complaints of assault, up from 490 in 2000. Last year it handled 105 drug charges,
    up from 36 in 2000.
    About half of the band members who live around Hobbema are under 18 and the
    vast majority are under 30, with a lot of time on their hands.
    But Hobbema needs more than more cash and cops to cure what ails it,
    according to Mel Buffalo, a member of Samson Cree Nation.
    Hobbema sits atop oil deposits that bring in millions of dollars. Trust funds
    have been set up for the young people on the reserves. At one time, when a
    person turned 18, they received a windfall of $100,000, but revenues have
    fallen and so have the amounts paid out.
    "Now it's $30,000 or $40,000," Mr. Buffalo said. "I've heard people spend
    that in three or four days."
    Hobbema doesn't need handouts that the government keeps pouring in, Mr.
    Buffalo said, shaking his head at the flurry of pre-election announcements of
    more funding for aboriginals.
    Hobbema, he said, has a huge potential labour force for the province and the
    country facing a skills shortage.
    "[The government] needs to work with us side by side, hand in hand, to create
    economic opportunities that would be long term, that will be sustainable. I
    don't see that happening. I don't see people working toward that kind of
    stuff," he said.
    "You'd think with all the money there wouldn't be a problem," added Mr.
    Buffalo, who is also president of the Indian Association of Alberta. "But it just
    goes to show you that money doesn't solve the problem."
    Harold Cardinal was just 24, and the youngest-ever president of the Indian
    Association of Alberta, when the Chrétien white paper was issued. Initially, he
    was delighted at the prospect of the demise of the much-hated Indian Affairs
    bureaucracy but he also accused Ottawa of trying to "exterminate"
    aboriginals by abdicating treaties.
    "This is the one thing that Canadians will have to accept and recognize that
    we are full citizens but we also possess special rights," he said. By the end
    of the year, he had published The Unjust Society, a white-hot criticism of
    what he saw as a policy of assimilation. He summed up the government's
    approach: "The only good Indian is a non-Indian."
    The bestselling book introduced non-native Canadians to life behind what Mr.
    Cardinal called "the buckskin curtain." Equally important, however, the
    battle cry against the white paper marked the beginning of a new generation of
    sophisticated native leadership.
    "It was a watershed moment for the aboriginal community," Phil Fontaine,
    national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, said in an interview. "That was
    a real catalyst."
    A few years after the white paper appeared, the political and legal landscape
    of aboriginal affairs had changed beyond recognition. Court decisions
    established the "aboriginal rights" that Ottawa had sought to deny, meetings
    between cabinet ministers and aboriginal leaders became commonplace and by 1982,
    aboriginal and treaty rights were enshrined in the Charter of Rights.
    The white paper is little more than an historical artifact now with its
    prescriptions thoroughly outmoded. But some of the assertions from 36 years ago
    retain their power.
    Don't worry that it's not good enough for anyone else to hear... just sing, sing a song.sigpic

  • #2
    "The separate legal status of Indians and the policies which have flowed from
    it have kept the Indian people apart from and behind other Canadians," the
    document said. "Many Indians, both in isolated communities and in cities,
    suffer from poverty."
    Mr. Fontaine acknowledges the truth of these statements. There is, he said, a
    desperate shortage of good housing in native communities and more than 100
    reserves live under a boil-water advisory. In addition, suicides are much more
    prevalent on reserves, and incarceration rates for aboriginals eclipse those
    of non-natives.
    What would conditions be like if Mr. Chrétien had succeeded in pushing
    through his white paper? It's a bit of a parlour game and the answers aren't
    straightforward. But Boyce Richardson, an Ottawa writer and filmmaker who has
    chronicled native issues for decades, said there is nothing in Canada's history
    to suggest that assimilation would have worked. "The Indians are not going to
    go away, they never have gone away," he said.
    Natives left without treaty rights and the protection of the Indian Act most
    certainly would have migrated to cities, likely with disastrous
    "It would have left a lot of people for a short period of time -- who know
    whether it's 10 or 20 years? -- to make the adjustment from a northern, rural
    lifestyle to an urban centre," said Murray Hamilton, program co-ordinator at
    the Gabriel Dumont Centre at the University of Saskatchewan.
    "There's a very distinct possibility that some of the social-economic
    situations that we're seeing now would have been accentuated."
    There are signs that life is about to turn around in Hobbema.
    This week, orientation sessions began with the 200 people between the ages of
    12 and 18 who signed up for the Community Cadet Corps program. The program,
    which is being adopted from one successfully launched in 1996 in
    Saskatchewan, teaches leadership skills and requires community service and school
    attendance. Where it has been adopted, crime rates have dropped and cadets have
    performed better in school.
    It's the kind of program that gives Koren Lightning-Earle hope.
    The 27-year-old law student left the Samson reserve last year to study at the
    University of Alberta. But the trouble at Hobbema isn't far from her mind.
    "There are some programs running but we need more," she explained. "The youth
    are bored, restless and are looking for something. As a community we need to
    provide that something, whether its sports, arts, cultural programs, more
    after-school programs, clubs, anything."
    Ms. Lightning-Earle, who has friends and family members who have killed
    themselves, said she had the benefit of supportive parents. She also knew she had
    to finish high school in order to seize opportunities.
    "I don't think I am better than anyone," she said. "I had the same
    temptations that everyone has. Some days I made bad choices and some days I made good
    choices, but I was fortunate that the good choices outweighed the bad, that I
    ended up where I am today."
    Now the people around Hobbema are insisting that it's time for governments to
    make the right choices.
    ================================================== ===========
    Don't worry that it's not good enough for anyone else to hear... just sing, sing a song.sigpic


    • #3

      Latest Comments in the Conversation

      Editor's Note: editors read and approve each comment.
      Comments are checked for content only, spelling and grammar errors are not
      corrected and comments that include vulgar language or libelous content are
      1. Rick La Rose from Ottawa, Canada writes:
      Mike S. I could not disagree more.
      That is the jealousy I spoke of in my post. You wish for our government, who
      are already labelled complete and total hypocritical liars to the largest
      degree, to add thieves and pirates to that description? You'd like the world to
      look at Canada as a bunch of redneck thieves?
      No thank you, we must all bite the bullet and honor our agreements. We made
      agreements and we have never honoured them. In fact Canada prevents natives
      from making money off there own land. We prevent them from opening up forestry
      businesses and we prevent them from hunting or fishing. We do so with fear
      that it may hurt our "white" fisherman, loggers and hunters". And then we
      bribe the aboriginals with welfare checks that don't even come close to amount to
      teh money THEY COULD BE MAKING if we respected our agreements to allow them
      to self govern.
      That's the God to honest truth about why First Nations in Canada live in
      poverty. We're deliberatly limiting them for fear of competition. Competition
      you say? Well it's quite easy, we also signed commitments to allow them to
      conduct trade without paying taxes. Therefore First Nations would have a
      perceived edge over "white" businesses (although they don't have the resources or man
      power to compete) we don't want to give them the chance... so we pay them
      For once let's give the native people a fighting chance. Give them a voice
      in Canadian politics and watch things begin to turn around.
      * Posted Nov. 24, 2005 at 1:21 PM EST
      * _Link to Comment_
      2. paul vidlak from Ottawa, Canada writes: It is too bad Chretien did
      not have the courage to see his white paper through - it would have been the
      one good thing he did in his life and maybe the Indians would have been better
      off by now, not coddled and bribed continuously by Ottawa. There might even
      have developed an acceptance of one law for all Canadians!!!!
      * Posted Nov. 24, 2005 at 1:40 PM EST
      * _Link to Comment_
      3. E Bate from Abbotsford, Canada writes:
      It seems that the term "assimilation" is becoming the word to hide behind
      whenever new ways of dealing with the "aboriginal problem" are opposed. In
      other words, those who oppose a completely new approach will call that new
      approach "assimilation". What then, do you call a completely new approach to
      solving the abomination that currently exists? Frankly, it doesn't matter what you
      call it as long as it happens. I'd even call it "capitulation" if it was a
      truly creative solution. So. let us not allow those who have special interests
      in the matter to confuse the issue with loaded words.
      Personally, I don't feel the least bit responsible for for the lives of
      individual aboriginal people. Each aboriginal person is himself or herself
      responsible for his or her life. If aboriginal people see themselves as part of the
      greater world they live in, then as one individual in that greater world, I
      am happy to assist them to help themselves by contributing some of my time,
      energy and money - just as I would for anyone else in that greater world. ( I
      think we usually call that greater world "society" or "culture".)
      Perhaps some aboriginal people find it more secure to isolate themselves and
      then to expect the rest of society to support that isolation. Of course, if
      you can lay guilt trips upon the rest of society that makes it even easier to
      do your own thing and have the rest of society pay for it over and over and
      * Posted Nov. 24, 2005 at 1:43 PM EST
      * _Link to Comment_
      4. jay thomas from vancouver, writes: Dirk Diggler's comment was bang
      on. Who better to preserve Native culture then Native's themselves. Reserves
      are the worst thing in the world for anybody. As many of the claims in the
      article say: no jobs, lots of spare time, lots of drugs, nothing to do. They are
      empty beurocracies. They are fed by tax payers money with little
      contribution to the economic structure of Canada. I'm convinced that a planned,
      strategic assimilation would benefit Native people greatly, and is actually the only
      conceivable course of action.
      * Posted Nov. 24, 2005 at 1:45 PM EST
      * _Link to Comment_
      5. Mike Michaels from Pittsburgh, United States writes: From the
      situation on the ground, it is apparent that the reservation system is not
      functioning.It is also apparent that the reserve system has failed to produce
      effective leaders.Accordingly, it is wishful thinking to imagine magical solutions
      coming from within. Being Canada, the government can continue to throw money
      at the problem.However, to date the government has thrown tens of billions of
      dollars at the problem and look at the results, abject failure.How can such
      results lead reasonable people to think more money would help now?

      The solution to this problem is as apparent as it is unpopular.There should
      be one class of Canadians subject to one set of laws.Reserves and special
      status should be abolished.Natives should become as special in Canada as
      Britons, Jamaicans or Pakistanis.Each group has their own identity and history, but
      none are afforded special protection or receives favorable treatment.Thus,
      even Natives should enjoy the privilege of paying the GST.

      * Posted Nov. 24, 2005 at 2:10 PM EST
      * _Link to Comment_

      * _Follow the conversation_
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