It never ceases to amaze me how aboriginal affairs in this country remain hopelessly buffered against serious, rational debate.
Instead, whenever native troubles boil over, a tired, old passion play gets dusted off and played out for the cameras, recreating that now ancient tale of European invasion.
A great swath of the non-aboriginal public takes up the cue, holding up placards and condemning every authority outside of the natives themselves for the sad state of affairs. And the media eat it up.
Before someone equates me with quasi-racist blowhards like Ezra Levant, let me first say that I’m as troubled as anyone else about the strife facing native populations in this country.
And I do agree the federal government must accept a large share of the blame.
But it’s still astonishing how some advocates seem to think the solution lies in maintaining some fashion of stone-age subsistence on large parcels of sovereign land.
The time for grievance is over. The time for “healing” is long overdue.
The fact is, we cannot continue the cycle of resurrecting pioneer injustices to justify the perpetual funneling of cash into a broken system. Some native populations are trying to change the channel, focusing their efforts on education and meaningful employment. That is the true road to healing.
Living an isolated, meaningless existence propped up by massive cash infusions can only lead to corruption and decay. It hasn’t worked. It will never work.
Since last month, a native movement called “Idle No More” has swept in thousands of righteous citizens, encompassing almost every hue of the social action spectrum.
Politicians of all stripes have stumbled over themselves to get a photo op with hunger-striking band chief Theresa Spence.
Spence has become the focal point for the movement. Her northern Ontario community of Attawapiskat made headlines in 2011 when it declared a state of emergency due to lack of adequate shelter.
Since Dec. 11, she’s been conducting a hunger strike in a teepee on an island in the Ottawa River. Her ultimate goals are vague, but her main demand of a personal meeting with Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Canada’s Governor General has so far gone nowhere.
The Idle No More movement initially kicked off late last year in reaction to the federal government’s omnibus budget bill. Native groups felt some measures in the bill undermined existing treaties and threatened to further sideline native rights.
The main beef has been lack of consultation. Harper has met with native leaders in the past year, but there’s a sense the government is trying to chip away at the status quo and usher in a system that downplays federal obligations.
This may be so, but that doesn’t necessarily mean a new approach is not needed.
What’s disturbing about Spence and her growing number of supporters is their apparent determination to hang onto the past.
“First Nations leadership need to take charge and control of the situation on behalf of the grassroots movement,” Spence said in a statement Sunday. “We need to re-ignite that nation-to-nation relationship based on our inherent and constitutionally protected rights as a sovereign nation. We are demanding our rightful place back, here in our homelands, that we all call Canada.”
Self-government is essential. True “sovereignty,” however, is unworkable. And none of us can turn the clock back to pre-settlement times.
If he hasn’t already, Harper should realize that a face-to-face meeting may be the wisest move at this point. There is no reason to further aggravate what is already a highly charged atmosphere.
But complete reversion to the treaties of pioneer days, artificially propped up by what is little more than federal welfare dollars, is not an option.
We need change. Not stagnation.
Peter Jackson is The Telegram’s
commentary editor. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.