One of my friends has challenged me to do a bit of research on the First Nations problems that never seem to get fixed, so I have taken her seriously and spent some time reading her material.  But I come to this with my own lifetime of experience and observation.

If, from the time of my birth, I was told that I never needed to work, never needed to lift a finger to provide for my own needs, from the cradle to the grave, it is quite likely that I would have found it easy not to make much of an effort to make my own way in life.

These school exams hurt my head,….why bother to study.  My boss is mean,….just quit this stupid job.  I partied too late last night,…..why get up early.  My back aches…..I’ll harvest the grain some other day. It doesn’t matter.  Someone else will always pick up the tab for my food and shelter.

“If a man will not work, let him not eat.” forms the foundation of my thinking.  Clearly Paul is not referring to people who cannot work because the Bible exhorts the people of God to care for the poor and needy, the fatherless and widows.

Work is necessary for our physical, mental and spiritual well-being, and it does not even have to be meaningful or well-paid work.  Work gets us moving and that is far superior to sitting around feeling bored, or worried or sorry for ourselves. Work is healthy.

A lot of things have shaped my, quite negative, view on how we ‘do’ Indian Affairs, or any name we attach to this abysmal pattern of pouring of billions of tax dollars into the completely dysfunctional reserve system in place.

Years ago my nephew in Ontario left his truck at a freeway park and rode to his job-site with his work crew.  The truck was stolen and the OPP told Ray to forget about it.  By now the local reserve fellows had got it stripped down and there wasn’t a thing the police could do about it.  Happened all the time.

A dentist I knew had many first nations clientele.  He’d fit someone with a set of false teeth and if the guy got drunk and lost the teeth down the toilet, no problem.  Taxpayers bought him a new set.

I’ve lined up to buy textbooks at college and watched as first nations students gave their name to the clerk who wrote down the amount on a special sheet, then gave the student all the supplies they wanted, free to them,….. taxed to us.  The tuition was free too.

During the Sumas Energy 2 hearings I got to know Chief June Quipp who invited me to see the Trans Mountain pipelines running through the Cheam reserve.  What took my breath away was not the pipeline, but rather the high, wide dump of asphalt, cement, drywall, painted wood and just about any discarded material that formed the north side of the reserve. For years the Cheam took money from truckers all over the mainland to dump this garbage there, right above the Fraser River.  The leachate and the smell of that massive dump will be with them for fifty years, if not more.  Now that is pollution far worse than any harm Trans Mountain or SE2 presented them.

As I drove down the Cheam village hill I saw household garbage strewn everywhere.  At one home three men sat on a porch drinking beer while dogs ripped up garbage bags on their front yard.  What would motivate these fellows to lift a baby finger to provide for themselves or their families so long as the Canadian government thinks its smart to pour millions into these reserves?  This is a serious disincentive to work.

About a third of the women in prison are from first nations.  A tragic number of their children are born with fetal alcohol damage.  The men sexually abuse their own offspring in disproportionate numbers.  Academically their children are seriously lagging behind almost any other people group.

One summer day while walking in Chilliwack I could hardly breathe.  There was a burning ban imposed on the region but this native reserve had no such restriction and had a roaring fire of tires, styrofoam and mattresses belching up, fouling the air for miles around.  On Sumas Mountain I see dirt and garbage piled around the free housing of First Nations.  Ditto for just about all reserves.  Rarely are there any gardens planted providing food and flowers or beauty.  I listen to my friends wax eloquent about how first nations care for the earth, but I do not see it.

Yes, so what? This is all our fault!!  We took their land and sent them to hostile places and then took their children off to residential schools.  And we brought alcohol to them.

Europeans did come to America, and they did take over.  And that is the harsh reality of a world constantly striving to secure more lands and goods by taking those away from other people.  It’s hard to see the plight of America’s first nations as being worse than the murder of the Jews, and Russia’s Putin recently bashed up the Ukrainians and helped himself to a good chunk of their real-estate.  And China is helping itself to a generous area of international water, while hovering menacingly over Taiwan.  And Britain did enjoy having the sun never set on their empire, for quite a few years.

Well today, First Nations claim ownership over every square inch of BC.  No actually, with competing claims between tribes the claims surpass 100% of all the land mass.  So clearly it is impossible now to give them all this land.  It has long ago been bought and paid for by millions of other people.  There is no going back.  There is no redress possible that would not cause gross injustice to the millions of people who worked and bought houses and lands, in good faith.  The barn door was opened way too long ago and never properly shut.

First Nations demand that laws and restitution be based on their oral history.  That judges agree to make rulings on oral testomony is really amazing.  Guess what my life story would look like if I could just make it up willy-nilly.  Forget the hard facts and real data.   I could weave a history of my life quite easily and look pretty good at the end of it.  Land claims are made, and accepted with no supporting documents. Traditions of the elders will do.

Years ago I read the account of a man who brought a wife away from her native village.  He wrote that many women wanted the white men to take them away from lives of abuse and pain.  But that is a written account, not an oral one.  His story and those of early explorers and trappers don’t match the lofty oral native narratives of all being peace and love and care for the earth that we hear now.

Were all residential schools places of hell on earth.  Well a few voices, of both the teachers and the students, have dared to say those were not all bad, and probably no worse than British boarding schools of that time. Some first nations people have expressed gratitude for the education and care they received.  But I do believe there was way too much awful abuse of these children and personally think anyone who sexually abuses a child should be severely punished.

In the present phase of this grim story, many Chiefs happily take the millions of government dollars sent to them, and distribute generous amounts to their friends and family while the village around them sinks into decay.  And Prime Minister Justin Trudeau thinks it was not nice of Stephen Harper to require financial accountability from them.

Just about everyone knows this whole journey has been and continues to be a colossal failure.  STOP THEN!!!!!

Chief Teresa Spence went on a much-needed diet and told us she would be Idle No More.  And therein lies the only answer to this insanity.  People must have an incentive to work.  Hunger and cold are tremendous motivators to get out and improve our skills and find jobs to provide for our daily bread.

To continue pouring billions of unaccountable dollars, extracted from the blood, sweat and tears of working Canadians, into this bottomless, hopeless pit of ‘First Nations’ dysfunction will NEVER redress the wrongs inflicted on them.

This is the classic story of conquerors and conquered. But somewhere along the line pity and victimhood have to give way, and thankfully many of them have risen above their circumstances and become fulfilled and successful citizens.   Non-stop welfare does little to raise First Nations peoples above the quagmire of their lives.

When I moved out West in 1969 a co-worker invited me to rent the basement of her parent’s home.  Her father had lost all of his possessions THREE TIMES as Poland and  Russia and the Czech’s, and I don’t know who else, duked it out and kept changing the borders. He’d flee, set up a new home only to have war envelope him again.  This man had every reason to be dejected and broken, and he did struggle.  He found some solace in the wine he made from the grapes in his back yard.  But he’d had to struggle on.  There was no one to turn to for help, no one who would provide for his family, and so he’d picked up the pieces of his life and fought on and made it.

If wishes were horses, then beggars would ride.  Well here goes.

If I could fix this mess, it would be be by paying every legitimate status First Nation person enough money to see them comfortably and safely through their time on earth, to try to compensate for the value of the land taken from them, and end all further life-draining welfare dependency, so that future generations would join the rest of us in the normal activity of making a living, and having a reason to feel good in our achievements.

 

Theresa Spence
Theresa Spence is the current chief of the Attawapiskat First Nation in Canada. She is a prominent figure in the Attawapiskat housing and infrastructure crisis, Idle No More, and other First Nations issues.Wikipedia

 

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