Thursday, February 5, 2009


"We have 350 families on a wait list for more housing. And we just don't have the money to build 350 houses."

This is the voice of Band Councillor Edward Starr of the Sandy Bay, Manitoba Indian reserve.

It is part of another dreadful story about death and fire and suicide and alcoholism and drug addiction on reserves.

But, for me, the crucial signal comes in this phrase, "We have 350 families on a wait list..."

Why? For what and for whom are you waiting?

The Great White Father to build you a house?

He hasn't built me a house.

I had to toil in the filthy corrupt marketplace to find the lucre to pay the down payment to sign for the long-term mortgage to buy my little postage stamp of independent home ownership.

Messy, I know.

Not ideal, for sure.

Not much room to swing a dog or cat or go fishing.

But that's life in the Big Smoke.

What most self-respecting people do is they study and work hard to get a house for their families. Reason being, so far we haven't noticed too many people just being given houses by anybody.

I appreciate that what I am suggesting here is way more than politically incorrect. It's darn near treason.

I am suggesting that the reserve system couldn't be more sick.

No one questions the dreadful, racist, exterminating, exclusionary policies and behaviours of several generations of white colonial rule in Canada.

All true. All shameful.

But please note.

Ethnics groups of every color, stripe and origin live and work in "the mainstream" while vividly maintaining their Irish Chinese Hindu Jewish Muslim Korean Russian roots and traditions.

The Indian Reserve was a bad idea 150 years ago and its a bad idea today.

It is a financial, moral, psychological sinkhole from which very little good can emerge.

End it.

Join the fray. Celebrate new strengths and old traditions right here on Canada Street.

Yah, I know. These are awful, incendiary ideas.

So be it.

Waiting for Godot will never be the answer.


Gary said...

Chief Clarence Louie of the Osoyoos Band speaking at a Conference in Fort McMurray
"My first rule for success is show up on time."
"My No. 2 rule for success is follow Rule No. 1."
"If your life sucks, it's because you suck."
"Quit your sniffling."
"Join the real world. Go to school, or get a job.."
"Get off of welfare. Get off your butt."

Tony Wade said...

I have worked with native people for over 35 years, on and off.
My last regular TV gig was with a show called 'Venturing Forth' about First Nations business entrepreneurs across the country.
This took me to reserves from Van. Isle. to Nfld. and everywhere in between.

I was thrilled by the level of expertise and 'hootspa' that so many FN people have exhibited.

I was aghast at the levels of third world living conditions and lack of education that I also saw everywhere.

I also saw an incredible level of graft and corruption among the band leadership.

No, not all of them by any means. Just some of them.
In fact there are some great examples of fantastic leadership. Check out the Osoyoos Band in the southern Okanagan and chief Clarence Louie. Their people are working and educated and motivated.
The band makes money and although helped by initial public investment, they are thriving.

I know very many Native people who are very successful personaly, and wealthy financially. Many of them are both.

I saw the problems as being a total reliance and expectation of free money for anything from buildings, food and clothing, to the entire societal structure...EVERYTHING.

Some are getting away from this total welfare, some are not willing or able to.

If you cut it off, then many, many people will die in the streets. The UN would be called in.

If you let it continue, it will self-propagate.

The damage has been done. The answer is to keep encouraging self improvement, because without it coming from within, then nothing will change by coming from 'above'.

Anonymous said...

That's a brilliant idea, Dave. Except that we don't know what the natives have been going through. I mean, their mentality is sure different from all of us living in the cities. We must take into account the fact that for more than hundreds of years, everything once was theirs were taken away, their culture, pride, sense of self. It could be really really really hard for them to just forget everything and start over. I mean, after all, white settlers were torturing the natives in every conceivable way and had not since done anything significant to remedy the past wrongs.

So. I don't know. Should they walk out of the shadow from the past and strike out a new life? or should they sink deeper into what is already a life so unbearable? I can't offer any answers because I have no clue how natives are feeling like. But I do believe this, if the government is jerk enough to not offer any real assistance. Then they must claw their way back to a normal life. Once again, I won't blame the natives. I am saying that they could, if they want to, stand up to fight for their future. There is no excuse for not even trying.


David Berner said...

Thanks to all of you, Tony, Gary & Zhou, for your thoughtful and informed comments.

I would never suggest for a second that the Federal Government should on a Tuesday morning suddenly cut off all support for reserve life. Not would I suggest that natives should or will arise en masse and walk out and into the cold mean streets.

I hope that government and native leaders will see the hopelessness of the current approach and work towards a Canada in which aboriginals are fully participating citizens - neither separate nor absorbed into disappearance.

Tony Wade said...

Further to my comment.
I had to go and cook supper with food I bought, in a house I paid for...

I agree that Canadian taxpayers should not be paying for First Nations' houses...I have always had to pay my own way like most people.

But, how does one halt a system that has been in place for 150 years? Free education is already in place but when society has deprived Native people for so long, (language, residential schools etc etc), how can it now be stopped except by phasing it out?...

OK, ban reserves and move everyone into NIMBY places like Point Grey and Shaughnessy. Some nice big houses there. The racism that started this has not gone away.

I can say that it is now a lot better than it was in the mid sixties.

David in North Burnaby BC said...

"My last regular TV gig was with a show called 'Venturing Forth' "

Great, great show. Fascinating, very enjoyable, well produced and very much in the "encouraging self improvement" cause. Congratulations.
Chief Clarence Louie sounds like my Grandpa, clearly a first-class gentleman and great leader for his people.
Does my heart good.

Tony Wade said...

Thanks David in North Burnaby...
I like your blog, here's mine