A few days ago I posted a film clip on Facebook about deplorable housing conditions on one of the Ontario NDN (Indian) Reservations. This was posted f.y.i. and was not intended to evoke guilt or blame for anyone. I see reports of bad housing and bad water on APTN news almost daily. The comments that were made saddened me; I wonder if people make the same kind of judgements when they see ads about children living in squalor in Africa, India or Central America? Please stop judging Natives (and the poor) by what you “think” you know. NDNs are not supported by your tax dollar. Free university is an empty promise, the band pays if there is enough money and with education on reserves receiving 50% of the funding public schools get; those who go are ill prepared to succeed. Tax exemptions are only for status Natives and less than half of Canadian Natives have a registered status.
I will address each comment in bullet form here but I urge you to read my full article on the subject below; sorry it runs a little longer then usual.
1/ Justin Trudeau is making change as fast as he can. Our political system was born with the Magna Carta and carries a power=entitlement paradigm predating the Roman Empire. Basically he is trying to move forward knee deep in mud.
2/ No-one is killing the fossil fuel industry it is becoming obsolete due to technological advances in alternative energy sources.
3/ Homes on the reserves are owned by the band not the occupants; repairs are made at the discretion of chief and counsel. Some bands are well managed, some are corrupt and some are just flat out poor.
4/ Let’s not pretend it is an equal playing field. If housing condition are deplorable for a city renter we have a Landlord/Tenant board to complain to; and if a sewage line breaks or overflow contaminates our water the situation lasts days not years.
5/ All the scrubbing in the world is not going eradicate mold when your neighbourhood has become a flood plain or the band counsel has chosen not to repair your leaky plumbing.
6/ As for the white elephant… you try living in a house with kids and not have a tv or internet….my husband and I were gifted a tv when our elderly friend passed away. You have NO IDEA how that tv came to that family.
It is sad to know that we have a 3rd world country hidden within Canada’s borders; our very own dirty little secret. It is human nature to feel guilt when we do something wrong and to conceal the source of our shame. I am here to say out loud that I do not feel guilty about the plight of our Native brothers and sisters; nor should any other Canadian. No one alive today is responsible for creating this abhorrent situation so open your eyes and open your heart and stop being in denial. This problem has its roots in colonization and the only way to fix it is by being proactive…reading this article is a start. I encourage you to find blogs by a woman named Chelsea Vowel an articulate young activist for Native rights and advancement.
Colonization in the U.S. involved white people going to war with Natives and due to superior fire power kicking their little red butts. Treaties there were terms of surrender and any concession by the winners were just a panacea and ultimately ignored. What Canada did was to enter into treaties with Natives allowing them to believe it was a partnership (they were never truly regarded as equals). Then in 1876 we created the Indian Act which gave the federal government conservatorship over these uneducated heathens; for their own good, of course. Because of this the American Natives have always been more militant about pushing toward equality; while Canadian Natives have for the most part been compliant victims of a bureaucracy which had them (until recently) acquiescing to all levels of authority. I am thrilled by the increasing levels of civil demonstrations (and personal appeals for justice) around human rights issues. It is the first steps to breaking free of many decades of learned helplessness. I would personally like to burn the Indian Act but since that seems to be scary to the powers that be, let’s just remove any clause which contravenes the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Back to the housing / water crisis on Canadian reservations. Government should do something it is their responsibility to take care of the NDNs (Indians)… but until recently Natives did not participate in the political system (having only had the right to vote since 1960) and therefore had no independent voice. Out of sight out of mind. Letters and appeals to cabinet ministers for assistance around housing, health and welfare (clean water) were largely ignored in favour of voting constituencies. The town-site locations which were optimal 100 years ago, in many case have been negatively impacted by climate change or resource development. Because of the learned helplessness I spoke of in the last paragraph, the necessary changes have not made by the bands themselves. Everyone has been and in large part still is waiting for government to take action.
Let’s everybody stop pretending anything is going to get done by any government anytime soon. I would challenge the residents of these communities with flood issues to pick-up and move your community to higher ground. The government is unlikely to notice but if they do object tell them to fuck themselves; they had their chance to fix the situation and did not take it. Blockades, marches and posters are just another way of asking the government for permission. While civil disobedience is a catalyst to systemic change we also need direct action to remedy the exist issues of inadequate housing and clean water.
BE PROACTIVE. Don’t be afraid to get creative, if the military can set up bases and housing in under a week why not find out how they are doing it. What kind of housing option are being used to rebuild after natural disasters? Just like an earthquake in Haiti; these people are NOT responsible for the situation they find themselves in. And I ask my Native brothers and sisters, "can we set aside the distrust"? We did not cause the earthquake, we can only assist with the recovery efforts if you will allow us to do so. Most white people are (like me) good hearted and eager to do what we can to make this world a better place for all of our children and their children’s children. If your community/reservation has these problem contact Habitat and Kiwanis and Knights of Columbus (the irony is not lost on me LOL) or one of the hundreds of organization committed to serve our global community of humankind. When you have arranged a date and supplies then put out a public appeal for both skilled trades and unskilled labour on local tv and radio for any additional manpower you might need. I challenge everyone who can take the time and wield a hammer to join in building new homes.
If you belong to an aide agency and you spend your winters bringing clean water to villages in Africa or Central America, maybe you could look at doing the same for our Native communities in the summer. Most of these communities don’t have the equipment, expertise or money to take the needed steps to clean up their local water supply. It is time for all Canadians of every colour, creed and class make quality of life a priority. Decent housing, clean water and affordable food is a human right. We should all come together with the singular purpose of giving this to every Canadian (red, yellow black or white).
Meegwetch (Thank you)
Bonny (Cameron) Morningstar