‘Aboriginal Peoples Still Haunted By The Past’

“This gap between narrative of self-government and reality — between memory of what once was a long time ago and what is today — reflects what I call the “dream palace” of the aboriginals…

“Today’s reality, however, is so far removed in actual day-to-day terms from the memories inside the dream palace, as to be almost unbearable…” 

ERBLAboriginalPeoplesStillHauntedByThePast800x800{This is an edited transcript of a talk that Jeffrey Simpson, the national affairs columnist for the Globe and Mail, gave at McGill U. in 2014.}

“…Necessarily, I must leave much out in discussing the long history of aboriginal relations in Canada. So, I highlight two seminal events among many… A terminological note: Although I am using the term ‘aboriginals’ for the most part, I am not talking about Métis and Inuit, but rather Indians, status and non-status, or ‘First Nations’.

“In 1969, the recently-elected government of Pierre Trudeau published a ‘white paper’ on Indian policy. (Inside the government, it was called a “red” paper.) Consistent with Mr. Trudeau’s belief in individual but not collective rights {? Except where French was concerned}, and reflective of the general frustration about the lack of progress on aboriginal matters, the white paper recommended scrapping the ‘Indian Act’ (which is what many aboriginals said they wanted) {But not the Chiefs, whose power – and tax exemptions — are validated by the Act}; delivering services through the same programs as for other Canadians; abolishing ‘Indian Affairs’ special programs; and transferring Indian lands directly to Indian people and away from ownership by reserves.

“Aboriginal leaders {NOT membership} descended on Ottawa and furiously denounced the White Paper as a recipe for ‘assimilation’ {That’s the term that aboriginal leaders use for ‘equal rights’}. They insisted that it undermined their ‘special standing’ in Canada as the ‘original occupiers’ of the land {A ‘special standing’ that is an insult to democracy and equality before the law}. They insisted that it diluted their ‘special standing’ relationship with the Crown that dated to the ‘Royal Proclamation of 1763’.

“Trudeau retreated, not something he often did. The White Paper’s ideas reflected what was a modern-day idiom for an old idea, to do away with special status for Indian people, to make them more like “us”, {No – it was about equal rights and full citizenship, which are their rights as Canadian citizens} in their own best interests, of course {These are their RIGHTS as Canadian citizens…}. They {the Chiefs} did not see it that way.

“Ever since, aboriginal leaders and governments have tried to develop a functional, “nation-to-nation” relationship, without much success. 

Trudeau's Indian Affairs Minister, Jean Chretien (PHOTO: Franz Maier)
Trudeau’s Indian Affairs Minister, Jean Chretien (PHOTO: Franz Maier)

“The next attempt to re-cast the relationship came when Prime Minister Brian Mulroney appointed the ‘Royal Commission on Aboriginal Affairs’ {RCAP} in 1991. Again, it was an idea born in frustration about the lack of progress and the hope that new ideas might be injected into difficult, even intractable problems…

“Mulroney asked retired Supreme Court chief justice Brian Dickson to recommend commissioners. He did: four aboriginals; three non-aboriginals {all of them already sympathetic to aboriginals’ ‘distinct place’}. Since judges like fellow judges, he suggested two of them, René Dussault from the Quebec Court of Appeal and Bertha Wilson, formerly of the Supreme Court of Canada, neither of whom had any experience with ‘aboriginal peoples’, except as concepts.

“Judge Dussault became co-chair with Georges Eramsus, a prominent Dene leader from the NWT whom I had met and interviewed when he led the Dene ‘Nation’ in its fight against the Mackenzie Valley pipeline in the 1970s… He was the commission’s driving force.

“The commission ran for five years, and went way over budget until it was given a ‘produce-or-be-shut down’ edict by the Chrétien government… The commission produced five volumes of some 2,000 pages. I can lay claim — if that is the right phrase — to being one of a very few Canadians who read them all. Well, not the indices.

“Along the way, after about two years if memory serves, something quite important happened inside the commission. THE ONLY ‘NON-ABORIGINAL’ WITH HANDS-ON EXPERIENCE IN DEALING WITH ABORIGINAL ISSUES — NOT AS SOME ABSTRACT IDEA OR AS LEGAL THEORY — quietly RESIGNED.

“Allan Blakeney — a Rhodes Scholar and a former NDP premier in Saskatchewan, where more than 10% of the population was, and is, aboriginal — left because, as he told me later, HE COULD NOT ABIDE THE SLOW AND DISORGANIZED PACE OF THE WORK, and because he thought the other COMMISSIONERS WERE DREAMING UP UNWORKABLE NON-SOLUTIONS to what he, as a former premier, believed to be a series of practical problems. HE DID NOT THINK THE INTELLECTUAL DIRECTION OF THE COMMISSION WOULD PRODUCE WORKABLE RESULTS. He was replaced by a former Alberta civil servant, Peter Meekison, a fine man whom I knew well, but without Mr. Blakeney’s hands-on experience and political savvy.

“Separate worlds” was the title of the first chapter of the first volume, describing a largely peaceful, productive, prosperous, even bucolic {and fictitious} state of affairs that prevailed among aboriginals before the arrival of our ‘non-aboriginal’ ancestors (or “settlers” as they were then and are now called by some of those who write about aboriginal affairs, a classic example of the appropriation of a narrative that is politically motivated and condescending, especially in this province where people trace their lineage back 400 years, obviously not as long as aboriginals in these parts but very long by any reasonable standard).

“The presented history was an extremely potted one {‘potted’: “briefly and superficially summarized” – Mirriam-Webster} . There were indeed peaceful and productive relations among some aboriginal peoples; there was also frequent conflict and violence.

‘Before the white man came? War’: https://www.facebook.com/ENDRACEBASEDLAW/photos/a.336196793149227.59519.332982123470694/496491963786375/?type=1

Iroquois Mohawk Warrior
Iroquois Mohawk Warrior

“Only in the last few decades have relations between Iroquois and Algonquins been somewhat repaired. At one point, the Iroquois, especially the Mohawks among them, were fighting the Delawares, Susquahannas, Abenakis, and Pequots tribes (or ‘nations’, if you prefer) as far west as the Illinois country, to say nothing of their mortal enemies, the Algonquins north of the St. Lawrence River. In the classic study of intra-aboriginal relations in what is now Michigan and Ohio — entitled “The Middle Ground” — Richard White depicts the ongoing struggles among aboriginal groups in that area long before, and after, “settlers” arrived.

“It is absolutely true that the British, French and American colonists tried to exploit these rivalries to their advantages, BUT THEY DID NOT CREATE THEM. You only have to read Samuel de Champlain’s diary of the battle along the east coast of the lake named for him — in which a handful of French soldiers killed a cluster of Mohawks to the immense delight of his Algonquin allies — to understand that conflict was as much a part of inter-aboriginal relations as peace and prosperity.

“I do not say this to sound superior. God only knows how often we non-aboriginals from Europe have visited immense and violent miseries on each other — on this continent and in so many other parts of the world. I only mention it as a kind of mild corrective to one of the prevailing and misleading narratives that make dialogue and sound policy so difficult.

“Who knows what, if any, influence Allan Blakeney might have had on the final report? He obviously concluded that he would have had none, and so he resigned.

“The result, which he foresaw, was a report based on what I might call ‘parallelism’: that would be two sets of peoples, as with the ‘two-row wampum’, with all sorts of diversity within each group, aboriginal and non-aboriginal, just as the report argued there had been at the time of the first arrivals of the settlers and for some period of time thereafter.

“Everything in the report was premised on ‘parallelism’. Wilson dreamed up the rules and structure for A SEPARATE ABORIGINAL PARLIAMENT THAT WOULD, by inventive legal reasoning, BE CONNECTED TO — BUT REMAIN SEPARATE FROM — THE PARLIAMENT OF CANADA. 

“In economic policy, the free-market was largely derided as a wealth-creator for aboriginal peoples. Instead, what was offered was deemed more appropriate for the different cultural traditions of aboriginals, a kind of economic model much in vogue in the 1960’s among African development theorists, Third World advocates and Marxist economists. It would operate on a different set of assumptions about how to organize an economy from what prevailed in the “other” society.


“The ‘Indian Act’, the source of so much woe, was to be eliminated but not for a while, not until the new parallel governmental structures were put in place. Or the existing ones were fortified with considerable new powers and much new money.

“The past was very much with the commission, and not just in the specific sections about history. To put the parallelism in place, it would be necessary for the “settlers” to acknowledge all the wrongs of the past, in the form of, say an inquiry into the taking of aboriginal children from their homes to be educated in church or state secular schools, and a formal apology offered for that and other conduct.

“Without using the words, THE REST OF SOCIETY HAD TO — as we say in the Christian churches — ‘EXPIATE OUR SINS’, OR AT LEAST THOSE OF OUR ANCESTORS, which involves by definition an acceptance of guilt of the inter-generational kind which, as public opinion surveys constantly reveal, is often not always welcome by those who played no part in the evils of yesterday.

“As the… political scientist Alan Cairns wrote after reading the 2,000 pages, IT WAS STRIKING HOW LITTLE ATTENTION THE COMMISSION PAID TO what aboriginals and ‘non-aboriginals’ have had, or might have, in common as “CITIZENS” WITHIN THE SAME STATE…

“The commission had some practical impact. We have had apologies for the residential schools from the governments of Jean Chrétien and Stephen Harper. We now have a commission looking into that chapter of the past. Generally speaking, however, the ‘Dussault-Erasmus’ commission for all its length had little effect — except in one important respect. 

RCAP-1997-04-15“Most of the practical recommendations died from neglect or implausibility, but its conception of the future relations between aboriginals and ‘non-aboriginals’ based on institutionalized parallelism both reflected and deepened that conception that is now the prevailing one through aboriginal Canada, among aboriginals’ lawyers and law professors, in certain government policies, in constitutional provisions, and in rulings by the Supreme Court of Canada.

“And we are struggling to give meaning to this idea on the ground, for reasons that might in some {aboriginal} quarters be grounded in racism, but also, because the majority of the general public already thinks enough time and effort is being spent on aboriginals, and because courts have been moving the yardsticks down the field in the aboriginals’ favour.

“The parallelism idea on the ground is hard to put into practice for many reasons {Not least because it’s folly}, not least of which are the demographic realities of many — not all, but many — aboriginal people.

“When ‘non-aboriginals’ first arrived in Canada, they huddled in small settlements, greatly out-numbered by aboriginals… Many centuries later, it is the aboriginals who are in a small minority of the population — at a maximum 4%, by the most elastic count as to who is a ‘Native Canadian’: Inuit, Métis and status and non-status Indian, although in Manitoba and Saskatchewan the aboriginal share of the total provincial population is heading towards 15%. Unlike many other parts of Canada, the aboriginal presence is not only rural but decidedly urban, as any walk through disadvantaged parts of Winnipeg, Regina and Saskatoon will show.

“Statistics Canada told us, following its 2006 survey, that there were 612 bands and more than 2,600 reserves. People have been voting with their feet, as they say, since ‘Stats Can’ estimates that only 40% of ‘First Nations’ people live on reserve, a share that has been slowly dropping for some time. More than 60% of these bands — or “nations” as many choose to call themselves — have fewer than 1,000 people. A handful have populations of tens of thousands, such as the Cree in Northern Quebec, or the Dene (Georges Erasmus’ ‘nation’ in the NWT) but most have fewer than 2,500 people.

“As for the economic and social statistics, these are well-known. Unemployment is higher than the national average; on reserves, much higher still. Aboriginal educational attainment is much lower, although graduation rates have improved. Half the child welfare cases in Canada are aboriginal; the aboriginal prison population vastly exceeds its share of the total population. Sexual abuse, fetal alcohol syndrome, diseases related to obesity such as diabetes, are much higher than the national norm. Suicide rates are higher; life expectancy lower. Some indices have improved, it must be said, but the gaps are a stain on the country. Under these trying circumstances, combined with small numbers, it is hard to find the capacity to run self-governing ‘nations’. 


“Let me illustrate the situation with reference to the recent annual report of the ‘B.C. Treaty Commission’. The report lists various ‘First Nations’ with which final treaty agreements have been signed or implemented. Here are the “approximate” numbers in each “nation”:
2,260; 350; 400; 1,050; 160; 780; 330; 3,460; 290; 225. For those “nations” in “advanced agreements-in-principle negotiations” the numbers are: 770; 940; 465; 550; 1,090; 1,790; 370; 2,505; 1,625; 1,041; 675; 3,685; 5,000 (Haida); 220; 945; 830; 6,565 and so on.

“But even these numbers misrepresent reality “on the ground.” You will note that the Treaty Commission speaks of “approximately” because it is sometimes difficult for Statistics Canada to get accurate data on reserves, and because a certain number of members of a “nation” do not live in their ‘traditional territories’. They have moved away for whatever reason and although they count as members of the “nation”, they are in absentia. Factor in children and elderly people, a “nation” of 1,000 becomes perhaps 500 or 700 able-bodied adults.

“I am not passing judgment here, just presenting a demographic reality that leads to inescapable questions of “capacity”, the ability of small groups of people, often in remote areas, to deliver what is demanded when leaders speak of “self-government”.

“Because what is “self-government”, commonly understood? It is the capacity of a government, chosen by the people, to deliver services expected in modern societies, such as education, health care, roads, social welfare, policing and justice, and other services – all financed, to the greatest extent possible, by own-source revenues, for which those in positions of authority, by whatever means, are held accountable.

“Given the demographic, it is reasonable to ask whether “nations” of fewer than 1,000 people is an oxymoron {!!!}. It is certainly a rhetorically powerful idea but in reality, what does it mean? On some reserves I have visited, I have asked myself: ‘Could a group of 500 or 700 PhD’s make this territory economically viable and deliver services expected by a self-governing group?’ Anyone with a smattering of knowledge about university politics must doubt whether the PhD’s could effectively govern themselves, but I’m not sure they could do the rest, either.

“This gap between narrative of self-government and reality, between memory of what once was a long time ago and what is today, reflects what I call the “dream palace” of the aboriginals – a phrase I adapt from Fouad Ajami’s book, “The Dream Palace of the Arabs”, about the intellectual and political efforts, especially among Egyptians, to reconcile the greatness of their distant past with their reduced and difficult present circumstances…

“Today’s reality, however, is so far removed in actual day-to-day terms from the memories inside the dream palace, as to be almost unbearable. The obvious conflict between reality and dream pulls a few aboriginals to “warrior societies”; others to rejecting the “Crown” or asserting a “nation-to-Crown” legal relationship (that is false, except through the government of Canada); others to fight for the restoration of treaty rights and ‘aboriginal title’ to create self-governing “nations” whatever their capacity and size; and everyone to demand that government turn over more power and money to aboriginal “nations.”

Mohawk_Warrior_Society_flag“The past is omnipresent (although in varying degrees) in the desire to protect “traditional ways”, which in most cases means hunting, fishing and trapping — noble ventures that, given the shrivelled markets for these products, can lead economically to something only slightly better than subsistence. Without a wage economy beyond these “traditional ways”, the path lies to dependence on money from somewhere else — namely government — which, in turn, contributes, as dependence usually does, to a loss of self-respect, internalized anger, social problems and lassitude.

“It is crucial to note here that there are aboriginal communities that offer the antithesis of this picture. They have — like the Cree of Quebec — a large critical mass of people to organize the delivery of services, and they have built a wage economy that brings self-reliance and pride… In central Saskatchewan, as in some other resource areas, local aboriginal people are gainfully employed in natural resource extraction and processing, and in the Saskatchewan case, in uranium. In the southern Okanagan, chief Clarence Louie has led a community that is bustling with activity – including a hotel, a golf course and a winery, Aboriginal-owned and-financed – and successful (Alas, Chief Louie is considered by many other BC aboriginal leaders as an outcast because of his sharp tongue about their rhetoric, and his entrepreneurial drive.). And there are other examples of success…

Osoyoos Winery
Osoyoos Winery

“What these successes tend to have in common is that aboriginal people have decided to integrate in varying degrees with the majority cultures, to form business arrangements in a vital attempt to create own-source revenues that will dilute or end spirals of dependency, especially those with potential natural resource exploitation projects.

“But even in these areas, there is ambivalence about the desirability of development — either from environmental fears, deep distrust of ‘non-aboriginal’ intentions and governments run by ‘non-aboriginals’, uncertainty about the market economy and, most of all, the fears within the ‘dream palace of memory’ about anything other than a separate, parallel existence leading to assimilation and eventual cultural disappearance.

“Parallelism, which is based on old treaties and recent legal developments, has been greatly advanced by court rulings at the provincial and Supreme Court levels, breathing new expression into constitutional protections in the ‘Charter of Rights and Freedoms of 1982’. Successive Supreme Court rulings have extended the meaning of aboriginal claims, rights and title.

“The most recent Supreme Court case, “William” (Tsilhqot’in), involves six bands within a ‘nation’ with about 3,000 people in a remote part of central BC. It greatly expanded ‘aboriginal title’ because it grants the ‘nation’ ‘aboriginal title’ and a de jure veto on any development on their land, except if the government can prove a “pressing and substantial” public interest – which, I think, will be very hard to demonstrate.

“The previous Supreme Court ruling, “Delgamuukw”, had said ‘native title’ could exist in areas where the band or tribe had settled, but not necessarily where it travelled in search of game or fish. “William” says that IF THE BAND HAS WANDERED OVER TERRITORY IN SEARCH OF LIVELIHOOD, and no other band did so, THEN IT HAS TITLE OVER ALL THAT TERRITORY AND THEREFORE HAS A FINAL SAY OVER WHAT HAPPENS THERE, subject to the “pressing and substantial” test. Moreover, the court said the statement of aboriginal claim for title is enough to give the aboriginal group what I would call a de facto veto, since it must be consulted and “accommodated” over all the land it claims, TITLE HAVING BEEN PROVEN OR NOT.

“Every commentator accepts that the ruling strengthens Aboriginals’ legal position and negotiating power, although there is disagreement by how much. BC’s chiefs think they know. At a meeting with Premier Christy Clark, they essentially said the government should recognize ‘aboriginal title’ over the entire province’s Crown land, and re-start relations from there.

VANCOUVER, BC_SEPT 11_2014: The All Chiefs Summit begins with opening remarks by B.C. Premier Christy Clark (Photo by Kim Stallknecht, PNG) [PNG Merlin Archive]
VANCOUVER, BC_SEPT 11_2014: The All Chiefs Summit begins with opening remarks by B.C. Premier Christy Clark (Photo by Kim Stallknecht, PNG) [PNG Merlin Archive]
“Although the ruling was specifically about BC, where there are no modern-day treaties, chiefs across Canada immediately said in various forums that the ruling applies to them, to their ‘title’ and their ‘rights’.

“I agree with Jock Finlayson, chief economist of the ‘BC Business Council’, who wrote in a balanced summary that, “the full implications of the ruling will only be felt over many years.” I think the ruling greatly complicates any major development in B.C., and will have a long-term depressing effect on the province’s economy.

“…And, of course, there are those in the aboriginal law world who are heralding the decision as an overdue levelling of the playing field between aboriginal “nations” and governments. For them, this reinforces the parallelism on which they hope the future will be based…

“As I said, time will tell. I hope I am wrong. Another person whom I admire, who works with ‘First Nations’ in BC, thinks I am. In his view, the younger chiefs there want to do business. They recognize their societies are too often stagnating economically. This decision will give them confidence and clarity to negotiate fair deals for their peoples. I think this is the wish being the father of the thought, but again, we shall see.

“Parallelism plays itself out in all aspects now of relations between aboriginal communities and governments, and the rest of society. It certainly extends to education, which has been much in the news, with aboriginals demanding full {segregated} control of the education systems for their children.
Ironically, studies by Professor John Richards of Simon Fraser University demonstrate that aboriginal students achieve better outcomes in the public school system than in those run by native administrations.

“… Last year, Prime Minister Stephen Harper swept aside his Aboriginal Affairs minister…and negotiated ‘mano-a-mano’ with the then-national chief of the Assembly of ‘First Nations’, Shawn Atleo. In these negotiations, the federal government dramatically improved previous offers of money, and aboriginal control and administration.


“The agreement, as you will recall, collapsed because Atleo resigned following internal dissent within the A’FN’, which itself then collapsed. Quite absurdly, the dissident chiefs demanded that the government negotiate individually with each “nation” – all 612 of them. A more sure-fire recipe for inaction could scarcely be imagined. As it is, the old A’FN’ is dead. A leadership contest for a new A’FN’ put Perry Bellegarde in the top job. He will still have one of Canada’s most impossible jobs, with 612 bosses. The recriminations that accompanied the A’FN’s collapse, and the criticisms heaped on Atleo, unfortunately demonstrated the tendency of some aboriginal leaders, ones who get a lot of media attention, to ratchet up demands to the patently unreasonable, then blame whichever government is in power for failing to accept these demands.

“To put matters more bluntly, with these sorts of demands, and this sort of negotiating structure, it is hard to get a ‘Yes’, because agreement would have offended THE POLITICAL CULTURE OF OPPOSITION that too many aboriginal leaders have created and propagated.

“And if you think I exaggerate, take a look at the history of the BC Treaty process that started when Brian Mulroney was prime minister and Mike Harcourt was premier. In all those years, there have been six — count them, six — implementing treaty agreements, and three completed final agreements, out of 65 ‘First Nations’ representing 104 Indian bands.

“At this crawling pace, the youngest person reading this article will be dead before treaties are implemented. But of course that isn’t true really because 40% of the ‘First Nations’ in BC never entered the negotiating process, or dropped out — some of them because THEY DO NOT RECOGNIZE THE AUTHORITY OF THE CROWN.

“What began with high hopes for reconciliation through treaties that would enshrine ‘the parallelism inherent in treaties’ and self-government by ‘nations’ has been an almost complete failure — with blame on both sides to be sure, and aboriginals saddled with hundreds of millions of dollars in debt through negotiations, monies they were to have paid off through the cash components of the settlements.

“A cynic would say — and there is plenty of room for cynicism here — that THE BIGGEST VICTORS IN THIS BC PROCESS HAVE BEEN THE ABORIGINAL LAWYERS.

"Woodward and Company LLP is delighted to be ranked among the top boutique firms practicing aboriginal law in Canada."
“Woodward and Company LLP is delighted to be ranked among the top boutique firms practicing aboriginal law in Canada.”

“It is not popular, I know, to say some of this. There is a great deal of touchiness around these matters, but I started writing about aboriginal issues when no one in the Ottawa bureau wanted to do so, back in the late 1970’s. I am hardly an expert, merely an observer — and wrong though I often am, and have been, I am not impressed by rhetoric from government or any other group, nor am I worried about the consequences of stating what I consider to be ‘home truths’…although I never seek to do so in an insulting or derogatory fashion.

“… We are now embarked on a new path that, with the greatest respect, I do not think is going to work very well, some of the reasons for which I tried to explain here… And while we must never forget the past, and while in this complicated relationship it will never be past, it should not guide us into the future if we are to make the kind of progress we need and want.”

Jeffrey Simpson, ‘Inside Policy’ – Macdonald-Laurier Institute, April 8, 2015 {CAPS added}

(Jeffrey Simpson is the national affairs columnist for the Globe and Mail. This article is based on his prepared remarks for the ‘F.R. Scott Lecture’ at McGill University in October, 2014.) 


Canadian-Flag-08“…Jeffrey Simpson’s column, which alerted readers to the “dream palace” mentality of the movement, was insightful.


“The column correctly points out that aboriginal groups are too small, isolated and unproductive to ever achieve what the movement is demanding — sovereignty. It points out that a return to aboriginal traditions can only result in a life of poverty in the modern context.

“Finally, it recognizes the mythology of assertions about an indigenous environmental consciousness. The lack of environmental degradation before contact was obviously due to the primitive technology and subsistence economies of hunter gatherers and horticulturalists, not some kind of “sacred link” to the land.

“There are two problems with his analysis, however. The first is that he does not ask why such a “dream palace” exists, or reveal the political forces behind the construction of aboriginal tribal leaders’ unrealizable demands.

“Secondly, Mr. Simpson himself constructs a “dream palace” — the notion that aboriginal peoples’ salvation lies in “participating directly in the exploitation of natural resources near their communities.”

PHOTO: Robin Rowland, The Canadian Press
PHOTO: Robin Rowland, The Canadian Press

“The increasing fantastical character of the aboriginal rights movement, epitomized by ‘Idle No More’, is the result of the influence of the ‘Aboriginal Industry’ – the group of lawyers and consultants who benefit financially from keeping aboriginal peoples in a state of segregated dependency. This industry has encouraged unrealistic hopes in the aboriginal population by fuelling resentment towards the “white man”, and promising “compensation” for past wrongs.

“Meanwhile, unrealizable demands for sovereignty, robust “aboriginal rights” and the quest for a “nation-to nation relationship” keeps aboriginal policy in a perpetual state of suspension, where never-ending negotiations always result in more demands for legal clarification and “consultation”. The continuation of aboriginal deprivation that results from such obfuscation then justifies the need for the distribution of more government transfers.

“While Mr. Simpson correctly argues that aboriginal marginalization cannot be addressed by greater autonomy or revitalizing “traditional ways,” more aboriginal participation in the exploitation of natural resources also will not be the panacea for aboriginal ills. The real target of aboriginal policy, after all, should be native youth, many of whom are victims of abuse, educational malpractice and fetal alcohol syndrome. How will the lives of this substantial segment of the population be improved by promoting participation in resource exploitation?

“There are two opportunities that resource exploitation brings – employment and ‘rentierism’. Rentierism is the major preoccupation of aboriginal groups, because it results in infusions of cash into the pockets of the native elite and the Aboriginal Industry.


TorontoG20FirstNations“But cash transfers do not result in social development — they create a circulation economy, where powerful community members and their associates compete to gain access to the rent circuit. This will provide trucks, drugs and gambling opportunities for native elites, and fees for hucksters of all kinds, but it will not improve education, health or housing on reserves.

“Employment in resource industries will be beneficial for some aboriginal people, but it should be recognized that most Canadians do not earn their living in this sector. They are employed in the service industries, which require extensive education and social skills. These cultural prerequisites for modern employment are not being facilitated by the current circumstances in isolated aboriginal communities. Aboriginal peoples even have difficulties taking advantage of preferential hiring practices in the resource industries because native traditions do not prepare youth to work by the clock, to plan for the future, or to take instruction from others (especially from those who are not related to themselves).

“Mr. Simpson’s liberal proposals, as well as conservative arguments for using aboriginal lands as “collateral” to start businesses, are almost as much of a “dream palace” as ‘aboriginal sovereignty’. Liberal and conservative commentators on aboriginal affairs assume that the market will solve aboriginal problems, when actual economic activity in most communities is impossible. Privatization also does not benefit people who are economically dependent and socially dysfunctional.

“What liberals and conservatives do not want to face is the amount of government intervention that is necessary to actually address aboriginal deprivation. Providing the intensive services needed to bring education, health and housing levels up to the Canadian average will require a well-thought-out strategy, and more resources being provided to aboriginal communities. The expense that this will entail is alarming to Right-wing governments, which are intent on cutting taxes, shrinking government, and running their affairs like a business.

“Recognizing that additional resources are required to solve aboriginal problems does not mean writing larger cheques to aboriginal leaders. Most of these leaders have little interest in improving the lives of the marginalized; their concern is gaining control over government funds, which results in unqualified friends and relatives “delivering” low quality services.

“Untold millions are also provided to lawyers and consultants in the Aboriginal Industry to perpetuate grievances and justify a return to a romanticized past.

“The resources that are required in aboriginal communities consist of the human assistance that will aid the transition from pre-literate tribal subsistence, to actual participation in Canadian society. This should come not in the form of transfers, but in high-quality services provided by the Canadian government.

“Increased numbers of specially-trained teachers are desperately needed, as well as medical personnel and housing construction initiatives.

“Aboriginal deprivation is one of the most serious problems in Canada today. Unfortunately, a realistic assessment of the causes of this problem has been stalled by the aggressive tone and feigned righteousness of aboriginal leaders and their Aboriginal Industry “helpers”. Mr. Simpson has done a great service by exposing the wishful thinking behind these initiatives. It would be a pity to allow his own “dream palace” to obscure the real challenges that remain in addressing aboriginal deprivation.”

–‘A ‘dream palace’ built on gas and gold won’t solve aboriginal poverty’,
Frances Widdowson, Toronto Globe and Mail, Jan. 10 2013 {CAPS added}

(Frances Widdowson is an associate professor in the Department of Policy Studies at Mount Royal University, Calgary. She is the co-author, with Albert Howard, of “Disrobing the Aboriginal Industry: The Deception Behind Indigenous Cultural Preservation” http://www.mqup.ca/disrobing-the-aboriginal-industry-products-9780773534216.php .)




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