Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Getting Past Chief's Rhetoric

While at a provincial gathering of urban municipal leaders, the head of Saskatchewan Federated Indian Nations (FSIN) took a shot at white government. In reference to the deaths by exposure of two little girls on a reserve, FSIN chief Lawrence Joseph said, "Yes, I fully put all the responsibility on the parent for that tragedy...But, no, I do not accept that governments--provincial, federal and municipal--took any time to look at the fact where did that come from, why did this happen."

In fact, Joseph seemed to imply that some vested interests enjoyed the status quo of Aboriginal crime and poverty: "We fill up your jails to create employment, and the list goes on and on."

That inspired a published response from columnist Murray Mandryk, where he as much as asks, "What about your own vested interests?"

Sadly, what First Nations leaders need to acknowledge, but seldom do acknowledge, is that the very system that contributes to the poverty benefits them.

The FSIN derives its strength from the chiefs that elect its executive. The chiefs derive their strength from controlling all aspects of the lives of those who inhabit the reserves -- up to and including food and shelter.

Why shouldn't we expect problems with drugs, alcohol and unemployment when we force people to live in an environment with no economic opportunity? Would the results be any different if we shackled rural white kids to their communities and didn't allow them to own their property or business?

Pardon my Eurocentric view of the world, but why in the 21st century do we still prevent people on reserves from getting jobs and holding mortgages? What gives us the right to declare that First Nations should be frozen in time -- forced to adhere to a system of governance developed in the century before the last one?

Yes, we still need to hear the inflammatory rhetoric we heard from Joseph this week. It's a reminder that we bear a huge responsibility for this system -- which doesn't work.

But we also need to hear more from the First Nations' leadership. We need to hear its commitment to reconstruct the entire system. We need to see its willingness to move away from the rural reserves that just aren't working.

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