Friday, January 11, 2013

Taking the wrong stand

Native protests in Canada are at a fever pitch these days.  Chief Theresa Spence has been on a hunger strike for a month demanding that the Prime Minister Stephen Harper meet with her and other Native leaders for several weeks of talks.  The general thrust of her complaints are, of course, justified.  The Natives have been abominably treated in the past and the conditions on many reserves are wretched.  Harper has been eroding their rights and trampling on treaties a lot lately and they quite reasonably want this to stop.  I think Harper and the Conservatives have been making a lot of decisions that trade away environmental protection for resource extraction and they have gone too far.

That said, I think Chief Spence and the other First Nations leaders are going about this all wrong.  They were offered a meeting with the cabinet minister, which they declined, and now have their big meeting with Harper himself.  Unfortunately because their demand that the Governor General attend is not being met they are largely boycotting the meeting and the hunger strike continues.  This is not the way to get things done.  Harper is the big boss in town and he is the one they need to deal with, not some anachronistic functionary.  More than that the problems the Natives face have nothing to do with the GG.  Boycotting meetings that are going nowhere I can understand, protesting against bad legislation okay, but this smacks a child's tantrum.  Be hard on things that matter like real changes in treaties or funding, and be flexible on things that don't matter like which guy stands in the corner being irrelevant.

On the other side of the coin I can't find a good reason why Harper won't just get the GG down there for the meetings.  Certainly he can't have anything else more significant to be doing, so why not just get him in there so the talks can move forward?  There are a couple possible reasons:  Perhaps Harper just wants to show everybody that he is the only one with power, which would be very much in character.  On the other hand, he might be trying to deliberately sabotage the talks to get Canadians outraged and on his side when the Natives won't meet.  Either way he is being a jackass about it.

Essentially you have two groups of people with really legitimate complaints about each other shouting back and forth about something completely unrelated.  Is too much of the money sent to reserves misspent or lost to corruption?  Yes.  Has the Canadian government inflicted horrors in the past and passed bad legislation recently?  Yes.  Is arguing about whether or not the GG is at the meeting relevant to anybody's real concerns?  Hell no!

Both sides need to put aside their petty grievances and sit down to figure out better long term solutions to the problems at hand.  Optimistically some way could be found to avoid classing people by heritage and equalizing treatment across all Canadians going forward as well as addressing all the terrible problems Natives face.  That is probably a pipe dream, but we ought at least to be making the attempt instead of just spitting in each other's faces.


  1. From what I've been reading the money sent to reserves may well be lost to corruption, but it's corruption on the part of the federal government, not the reserves. They have to deal exclusively with the federal government on all matters, including those the provincial governments normally deal with. Everything they spend relevant money on has to get government approval.

    This is not two sides with legitimate complaints shouting back and forth. This is one side with legitimate complaints and one side with all the power. Maybe arguing about the GG being there or not isn't going to accomplish anything, but neither is meeting with Harper alone. At least this way the story stays in the news and it gets more and more likely that public opinion will sway to their side. Certainly having this all swept under the rug isn't going to get them anywhere.

  2. "That said, I think Chief Spence and the other First Nations leaders are going about this all wrong."
    I think we are ALL going about this all wrong. Change Idle No More to Poverty No More. Change the talk from First Nations/Metis/Status,Non-Status (where do you draw the line?) to POOR, based on income. 3.4% of the Fed. budget goes to Indian and Northern Affairs, which transfers it to (in many cases) corrupt bands. Change this. How? Provide a guaranteed minimum income to EVERYBODY. $1,000 automatically deposited in everybody's bank account every two weeks. Get this back from middle and high income earners through a progressive tax system (without loopholes). Everybody has a base $24 grand to spend. Since most reserve members live in poverty this helps them the most - directly. As well as some of my white neighbours. Call it Social Capitalism. Sure, the lazy are rewarded for doing nothing, but it is a non-race based solution that may improve living conditions for many people in a wealthy country, which is at the heart of the problem. MZ