The Innu plight: time for frank talk

Peter
Peter Jackson
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I have written many times on native affairs in this country, particularly the miserable existence of many Innu living in Labrador.

I have written many times on native affairs in this country, particularly the miserable existence of many Innu living in Labrador.

I do not, however, approach it as an expert. I’ve neither lived among native populations nor studied their history to a large extent. I’ve never been involved in land claim talks.

That means I can’t talk authoritatively about the complex factors that may or may not lead to societal breakdown in communities such as Natuashish.

But there are some sweeping issues I can understand, as an informed citizen who follows the news and who reads a scattered bit of other research and narrative. And public opinion polls from this past January would suggest I’m not alone.

For one thing, most Canadians believe a renewed movement to further entrench isolationism among native populations — vaguely the tenet behind Idle No More protests — is a non-starter. We cannot return to pre-pioneer days, to treaties signed by monarchial overlords, in a world governed at the point of a musket.

And on another front, most believe the problems happening in the more indigent communities, such as Attawapiskat, Ont., and Natuashish, is largely a fault of the native leadership, not federal or provincial governments.

It often does come from the top, as CBC’s John Furlong wrote in a recent online opinion piece — an essay for which the corporation subsequently threw him under the bus by posting a stern condemnation and apology.

It’s no mystery, for example, why 80 per cent of Canadians agree native communities in this country must exercise greater financial accountability.

Misappropriation of funds by native leadership is legion. It’s the impetus behind Ottawa’s move to make sure funds allocated to native bands be audited and accounted for in the same way any other expenditure of taxpayers’ money would be (with the glaring exception of MPs’ expenses).

Furlong seems to understand as well as any “expert” that addiction problems can’t just be moved down the road.

I said as much in my own columns during the move from Davis Inlet to Natuashish, while national media were tearfully heralding the bright future facing the Mushuau Innu — as if new plumbing and Gyproc would miraculously cure all ills.

None of this is racism.

It is an honest, genuine attempt to understand why these problems persist.

Globe and Mail columnist Geoffrey Simpson ascribes the plight of many native communities to living in a sort of bubble he calls a “dream palace.”

“Inside the dream palace, there are self-reliant, self-sustaining communities — ‘nations,’ indeed — with the full panoply of sovereign capacities and the ‘rights’ that go with sovereignty,” Simpson wrote at the height of January’s Idle No More protests. “These ‘nations’ are the descendants of proud ancestors who, centuries ago, spread across certain territories before and, for some period, after the ‘settlers’ arrived.”

All this, of course, has nothing to do with modern solutions to modern problems. It only distracts from it and leads to more frustration and addictions and abuse for those who can’t absorb the clear contradictions.

There’s a knee-jerk tendency to jump down the throat of anyone who recommends an obvious remedy, like putting kids in foster care until things change, or relocating communities closer to tangible economic opportunities. The ghost of residential schools and forced migration still linger.

But somehow, somewhere, someone is going to have to embrace the cold, hard reality of the situation.

Simpson seems to grasp it well: “To imagine that isolated communities of a thousand or so people can be vibrant and self-sustaining, capable of discharging the panoply of responsibilities of ‘sovereignty,’ is to live within the dream palace of memory.”

Peter Jackson is The Telegram’s

commentary editor. Email: pjackson@thetelegram.com

Organizations: CBC, Globe and Mail

Geographic location: Labrador.I, Attawapiskat, Ottawa Davis Inlet

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Recent comments

  • paul
    October 16, 2013 - 19:51

    out dated treaties...I hear that alot...must be like out dated border agreements...that long border between Canada and the USA, that's pretty old...how can that be relevant today? Quebec-Labrador boundary, again, old...so how is that relevant today? that's what I hear when people say the old treaties between the Government of Canada and various First Nations, is old and no longer relevant.

  • Bruno Marcocchio
    October 16, 2013 - 09:20

    Demanding fiscal accountability from natives (as though that is the cause of the dysfunction in the reserves) is the height of hypocrisy. Your government is blowing untold billions on the Muskrat Falls without accountability, transparency or demonstrated need. I guess the democratic deficit and hidden money trail this implies is fine because we are upstanding white Europeans. To level the playing field perhaps we should relocate the responsible politicians and Nalcor execs to a remote reserve or drop them off on an offshore Island in winter and make them walk home.

  • Philip Jeddore
    October 16, 2013 - 08:55

    You are as racist as Furlong if you can't see that the CBC did not throw him under the bus for saying "..it comes from the top"...it was for his other very racist comments. It is not a case of addictions being moved down the road... We look at relocation not as the solution to change, but as a change to find a better solution. Your commentary doesn't help at all. It's just a catharsis to help yourself. Hope you found it worthwhile.

  • Philip Jeddore
    October 16, 2013 - 08:53

    You are as racist as Furlong if you can't see that the CBC did not throw him under the bus for saying "..it comes from the top"...it was for his other very racist comments. It is not a case of addictions being moved down the road... We look at relocation not as the solution to change, but as a change to find a better solution. Your commentary doesn't help at all. It's just a catharsis to help yourself. Hope you found it worthwhile.