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Dealing with comments about Attawapiskat
December 4, 2011 12:50 PM   Subscribe

The Canadian government has put a negative spin on the state of emergency and situation at Attawapiskat, in northern Ontario. A Plains Cree speaking Metis woman in Montreal has prepared an excellent series of responses to the major comments being generated by the crisis at Attawapiskat. (Via:âpihtawikosisân)
posted by JL Sadstone (60 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite

 
Can we get some more background info?
posted by quodlibet at 12:55 PM on December 4, 2011


Poor housing and a cold winter has resulted in Attawapiskat saying that their situation is in a state of emergency.

They described a bulging population living in mold-infested, under-serviced and overcrowded housing that could be likened to the Third World if it weren't for the fact the sheds and tents people live in have to keep out frigid -40 C temperatures.

See also: Asked for medicine to help with H1N1, got bodybags instead as an example of the "genocide by neglect" policy that seems to be Canada's way of dealing with First Nations.
posted by yeloson at 1:07 PM on December 4, 2011 [4 favorites]


Here's the article that Charlie Angus (member of Parliament for Timmins-James Bay) wrote about the crisis for the Huffington Post.
posted by bewilderbeast at 1:08 PM on December 4, 2011 [4 favorites]


Did something happen to reduce the housing stock or has it always been this way and is only being brought to people's attention now?
posted by desjardins at 1:09 PM on December 4, 2011


Here's the article that Romeo Saganash (Cree member of Parliament for neighbouring area) wrote about the crisis for the Huffington Post.
posted by Jairus at 1:11 PM on December 4, 2011 [3 favorites]


What a fantastic piece. I actually haven't heard some of the complaints that the author is referring to, but none of them surprise me. This deserved more links, but it's been in the news a lot in Canada so the background is reasonably well-known here.

Attawapskitat is a reserve in northern Ontario which has been in the news recently for its completely terrible and insufficient infrastructure, despite it getting some significant amount of money from various places. The infrastructure has not suddenly gotten worse, it was suddenly publicised. Depending on who you ask, this is the fault of the Canadian Harper[1] government, the Assembly of First Nations, the lack of accountability for chiefs and tribes, casual racism by Canadians, and so on. There are lots of specifically racist complaints blaming the First Nations for being lazy/freeloaders/etc and so on, some of which are responded to in this piece.

There is also a press release from the chief available.


[1] Another story in the news lately has been requests from the Privy Council Office to brand things the Harper government instead of the Government of Canada, and discussion about whether this is normal or appropriate.
posted by jeather at 1:12 PM on December 4, 2011 [3 favorites]


One of the things that really impressed me about First Nations people in Canada is how vocal and active they are compared to their US counterparts. Not meant as a dig on US indigenous peoples or anything; I'm aware there's still a lot of activism there. But it wasn't until I moved to Canada some years ago that I saw indigenous people who were that active, vocal, and creating their own media. I could be biased, though, with recent relations on my father's side being Mohawk (remember Oka!).
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 1:26 PM on December 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


Well, this is a good counterpoint to all the Americans who think Canada is so much more progressive and civilized.
posted by desjardins at 1:29 PM on December 4, 2011 [5 favorites]


One of the things that really impressed me about First Nations people in Canada is how vocal and active they are compared to their US counterparts

They're a much, much larger share of the population here. Something like 500% more.
posted by ethnomethodologist at 1:32 PM on December 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


Well, this is a good counterpoint to all the Americans who think Canada is so much more progressive and civilized.

Yeah, if Canada had just killed off all the natives like they did in the US we wouldn't have these problems.
posted by ethnomethodologist at 1:38 PM on December 4, 2011 [8 favorites]


Ironically, the province doesn't take the same attitude when it comes to the immense wealth coming out of Attawapiskat's back yard. The De Beers Victor Mine is the richest diamond mine in the Western world. Just recently, the province upped the royalty tax at the mine from nine per cent to 11 per cent to ensure an even higher return for the provincial coffers. Not a dime of provincial royalty money comes back to help the community with infrastructure or development.

Perhaps one way to address this is to help consumers associate Canadian-sourced diamonds with blood diamonds. The human cost seems to be on the same moral scale.

And why not? After all, Canadian oil is advertised as morally preferable to Saudi oil. What's good for the goose, etc.

If people begin to think Canadian diamonds are dirty, I'll bet that changes would be made pretty quickly.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:40 PM on December 4, 2011 [6 favorites]


Here's the article that Brett Hodnett (lazy hack) plagiarized from aphitawikosisan for the National Post
posted by anthill at 1:42 PM on December 4, 2011


Did something happen to reduce the housing stock or has it always been this way and is only being brought to people's attention now?

The challenge is that it's generally impossible of residents on reserves to get mortgages, so housing is always built by the local government (the band office, or the tribal council). There's also no work whatsoever on reserves, so it's impossible to build houses to meet demand. There's also a population explosion in First Nations communities (a good thing, I would say), which leads to overcrowding.

But fundamentally it's just a fucked up system.
posted by KokuRyu at 1:43 PM on December 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


yeloson: "genocide by neglect"

Genocide does not seem even remotely close to appropriate. That word should be reserved for doing worse things to people than not building houses for them. I have little idea what's going on in Attawapiskat, but though things may be bad there, I'm pretty sure they're not quite that bad.
posted by sfenders at 1:46 PM on December 4, 2011


I have little idea what's going on in Attawapiskat,

Then maybe you should step back from the discussion until you've educated yourself a bit.
posted by AkzidenzGrotesk at 1:49 PM on December 4, 2011 [11 favorites]


I have done. That was the most restrained comment I could make there.
posted by sfenders at 1:57 PM on December 4, 2011


Genocide does not seem even remotely close to appropriate.

If you can't see how the colonization of North America has been a slow and grinding attempt at the eradication of the First Nations, you aren't trying hard enough.
posted by looli at 2:00 PM on December 4, 2011 [11 favorites]


Many of them have been eradicated this way, well after the colonization is over and done with, it's not been just an attempt. A close parallel would be the fates of many Siberian cultures under the Russian Empire and Soviet Union. A major recession seems like a great excuse to say "oops" again.
posted by XMLicious at 2:24 PM on December 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


God, that's a great blog post. Going out to a few people I know right now.

anthill, that Hodnett article in the National Post is the blog posting, word for word. They do include a link at the bottom pointing to the blog, ("Originally posted here") but never name the author or the name of the blog in clear text. Was that there when you first read the article? It also took a few minutes for it to show in the default site, rather than the mobile site you linked to. Clean-up in aisle 5?
posted by maudlin at 2:32 PM on December 4, 2011


Did something happen to reduce the housing stock or has it always been this way and is only being brought to people's attention now?

Unfortunately it has been brought to peoples' attention before.
posted by Hoopo at 2:54 PM on December 4, 2011


A major recession seems like a great excuse to say "oops" again.

Seriously, pretending that the pervasive bureaucratic incompetence we live with in this country is actually genocidal malice in disguise when it has disastrous consequences is fucked up and does not help the cause you are presumably trying to express support for. Much as you might enjoy comparing Stephen Harper to Hitler... oh right, Godwin's law. Okay then, carry on.
posted by sfenders at 2:54 PM on December 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


Seriously, pretending that the pervasive bureaucratic incompetence we live with in this country is actually genocidal malice in disguise when it has disastrous consequences is fucked up and does not help the cause you are presumably trying to express support for.

Again, I think you should really read up on this subject a bit more.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 3:05 PM on December 4, 2011 [4 favorites]


You know, that "Don't attribute to malice when incompetence is possible" thing really provides excellent cover for evil douchebags to do evil, then say, "Oh noes! I'm an idiot!" and get away without any consequences.
posted by mikelieman at 3:08 PM on December 4, 2011 [7 favorites]


Does it really matter if it's malice or incompetence? Either way it's a major problem and the people doing it need to be removed from public office (but probably won't be). On one level it matters, yes, but on a practical matter getting it fixed is a higher priority than trying to determine what people's reasoning was.
posted by jeather at 3:14 PM on December 4, 2011


Koku-Ryu, you are right, the population growth is a good thing... some of the most progressive, interesting ideas, which could rightly bring Canada (as a whole nation, not just one or some particular segments of privileged population based on the blind chance-luck of what happened to be underfoot; [as Alberta, Tarsands, or the Blood Diamonds of De-Beers Canada]) back into an "important global role in peace, and progress" [currently global leaders, especially in the global south, and those facing the effects of climate change widely see Canada as obstructionist, appeasing the worst offenders, opposing realistic climate change solutions, also not-worthy of a seat on the security council], from outreach to global partners, to fusions of old and new ideas, progressive ideas are coming from the boom of young Aboriginal students with a new hunger to find healthy pathways to better the world they live in, striving to learn, and becoming leaders (in the true sense, not in some "representative democracy" [one person speaking over, and for many] sense), leaders of vision, leaders who see a new way to move towards tomorrow. Many White-Folks who "talk about" Aboriginal issues in Canada conflate culturally appropriate "all education" withthe Deculturing effect of Residential Schools (I long thought that any attempts to bring improvements, and economic funding equality ought to be "cautious", so as to not "duplicate" the ethnocidal action of residential schools, but have since realized that equal funding, and with the control to design the courses of study in the hands of First Nations people, in accordance with UNDoIR, acting now, and speaking up is the responsibility of non-indigenous Canadians). Indigenous people have been raising these issues for a long time, the Federal and Provincial governments have been silent, and ignored the pleas for help. Yet they respond at the drop of a hat when other municipalities ask for help... this power that non-indigenous people have, the power of being heard, must be used, must be implemented, if only to assist in this very real state of emergency (and hopefully to act as the first of many bridges towards an interactive future partnership based on recognition of equality).

One reality (that was made especially plain to me when I had the privilege of hearing Thompson Highway [taken to a Residential School, he has a really interesting perspective on the whole topic] speak) is that besides the abuse, the settler societies outright hatred of that which made people Indigenous, language, the vile violence done against those who 'dared' speak their home tongue... the projects to eradicate the indigenous languages, yet it is very important to remember and consider that the idea of education is FAR from 'opposed' by Indigenous people (for example of a person with a cross cultural vision today, just look to Shawn Atleo and his work towards bringing wide notice to the current inequality of education funding, and a vision for how to bring equality of funding to the Canadian Education environment); education is central to indigenous culture, what must be recognized though, is that Canada signed onto the UN declaration of Indigenous Rights, which carries the weight of a promise to fund education equally for those who are non-indigenous (getting $1.00) as for those who are indigenous (getting 50 Cents).

If you have no idea, perhaps don't be so quick to dismiss, or decide with such apparent clarity of certainty (one way or the other) what is or is not going on or what terms are appropriate. So, fine, let us appease, and say, for the sake of argument, that this is not "Genocide" by Neglect, but I defy you to argue that this is not "Policy Implementation By Neglect", and it just so happens that neglect very closely resembles the active policies of genocide (or Ethnocide if you will). This is not an "isolated" "incident", this is part of a larger pattern of neglect, and Policy implementation by Abrogation of Legal Duty. Canadians can still go around and be proud of accomplishments, or shared national myths... but why act to further squelch the voices of those already marginalized, by media, by government, and by a population that seemingly just 'doesn't care, or want to hear about all this sad stuff'. Silenced people already targeted for Ethnocide many times in the specific nation in question (the stated and direct goals of the Residential School project was to kill the language out of a people who's culture is transmitted, shared, and founded upon the use of language. This is merely the latest in a long line of actions and inactions; all of which add up to some of the worlds most distressing conditions, the term Fourth World was not introduced because it sounded pretty.

In Canada, a long observed form of "making policy" (particularly policy that impacts Canada's First Nations) is by simply not taking action on any issue or problem (the other, more well known form of policy implementation is "Acts", or "Legislation", which are "active" policy implementations; what you are witnessing here is policy implementation by inaction or abrogation of responsibility (another example is on the question of "Abortion 'rights'", Canada doesn't have an "active" allowance of Abortion; merely a negation of a specific set of Legislation making a particular case of Abortion illegal. In Canada, abortion is not a right, nor legislated legal. There is room for a set of legislation that makes Specific Time in Term abortion illegal, or "edge cases" (I am not saying this will happen, only that any government of the day desiring to do this, with a majority could pass this [whence it would be struck down in Canada's activist legal system as breaking Charter Guarantees] in Canada "activist" Judges are actually how progressive elements are passed, by striking down the conservative legislation that the governments of the day, who excuse their conservatism as being at the will of voters and "elections" polls and the shifting winds of 'politics')

This is not "an accident", or "lack of information" on the part of the Federal Government. As is now well recognized (despite the Government attempts at spinning the situation as "First Nations mismanagement"), they were already a partner in the economic dealings of the community (hence the whole "third party" management; the Federal Government was already a second partner, and for them to act as though they were "shocked" at the financial situation... is disingenuous; or, a surprisingly honest explication of the fact that they simply did not even care enough to look at what they were actually doing (if only there were not so many press releases and media junkets where they try to pin this on "mismanagement" by anyone but their own selves.

Part of the problem (with the "big numbers" being thrown around [without mentioning that the 90 million is for everything, and was not "yearly", but rather, spread out over a period of years] such a budget, as broken down into yearly amounts is tiny compared to comparable communities, corporations or institutions working on a fixed budget) is that First Nations have to pay for education, and all other services using the small amount of money that is transferred from Federal Pocket, as the Indian Act, the documents of inception which include the Charter, requires, while other citizens of the provinces also get Federal Transfer Payments to pay for these things separately, thus, in trying to build schools, and provide basic services (like the various forms of counseling) and that pool of money hasn't changed at all in relation to the rising costs, rising need, or other realities of economics.

A southern (settler) student in primary education gets money from the province for their schooling (in addition to the percentage of the Federal dollars that are transferred to the provinces for such), this means that a First Nations student gets the resources of 50 Cents to each Whole dollar that a southern student recieves... How is that quirk of Canadian Federation justifiable in the modern world? So Northern First Nations communities are left all alone, paying for education out of money that ought to be going to the other necessities (that every citizen who isn't First Nations also get), like subsidized housing, assistance with mental health, or counseling, suicide prevention counseling, and so many more things that other Ontarians count as "givens", yet seem to begrudge every step of the way for Indigenous Ontarians).

Of course, all that, and more, stated more clearly, was in the original article. Attawapiskat is not the only community facing these conditions. Ontario is not the only province. Action is actually needed now. Action will only happen if/when non-First Nations people recognize that it is their responsibility, and duty to speak up for, and with, alongside their fellow Canadians who are currently in a state of emergency, and dying, and yet being "blamed", and "held-accountable", for realities that they did not make. The "book checking" is unreasonable, and is being held up as though it must be done before any action is taken. Fourth World situations, on display for all to see. With this attitude on display, it is made clear why Canada is not currently fit for the responsibility of international importance, unfit for a role on the UN Security Council, and unfit to speak on the "moral" issues of the day.
posted by infinite intimation at 3:22 PM on December 4, 2011 [20 favorites]


sfenders, pretending as you are that seething bloodthirsty Hitlers are the only way an entire language, culture, and people can be snuffed out is exactly what would make it an "Oops, how could we have known this would happen?" situation. I have difficulty believing that you don't know better than that; if you genuinely don't, your declared interest in informing yourself is a complete sham.

You've got a native culture; the population begins to dwindle because their traditional means of providing for themselves is destroyed through environmental degradation or resettlement; fifty years later, substance abuse is rampant and they live in a squalid imitation of the intruding civilization; fifty years after that, only a handful of elderly people are left that speak the native language; another fifty or a hundred years on there isn't even a genetically distinct group left. You seriously don't think of that as genocide? It's not like this has only happened once or twice.

It often happens more slowly below the Arctic Circle so maybe I'm more aware of it because I live in New England. There are lots of towns and hills and rivers with names in a variety of Native American languages, we use them every day and put them on our maps, but the people who named them are long gone. Not confined to reservations or anything like that, simply gone, in many cases without any trace or historical record of their fate.
posted by XMLicious at 3:25 PM on December 4, 2011 [4 favorites]


That thing they did where they decided against sending H1N1 vaccine and sent body bags instead, I'm thinking "genocide by neglect" is not that far-fetched.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 3:36 PM on December 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


(And what I'm describing above, in case I need to point it out, is what has happened to the allies of the settlers in North America, Siberia, and everywhere else - the friendly, or at least the peaceful natives.)
posted by XMLicious at 3:40 PM on December 4, 2011


From what I remember of the H1N1 thing, they were attempting to send enough medical supplies to last the entire winter, since there were concerns that the community would be cut off, and quite a few body bags were part of the shipment.

Insensitive? Definitely. Stupid? Definitely.

Nothing I read, though, suggested the community had gotten a shipment of just body bags as a reply to a request for medical supplies for dealing with influenza.
posted by Grimgrin at 3:54 PM on December 4, 2011


You seriously don't think of that as genocide?

I absolutely do not think of anything presently going here on as genocide. To say that it is devalues the word. Much of the past is a different matter.

It's genocide by definition if they want to kill everyone who has particular "racial" characteristics. I suppose it could arguably be just to call it "genocide by neglect" if they merely wanted everyone dead and did nothing from that motive. Sort of like "murder by neglect" if you pass on the chance to save someone from death because you'd rather they died. But nobody wants that. There is nobody in charge saying "I sure hope these people die off this winter, save us the trouble of killing them." Or so I will continue to believe. That is what genocide is about, and it does still happen in the world.

"They don't really care about us" as in the video linked to is not genocide, it is just neglect, and having a little more experience in this sort of thing than some of you would guess, sadly I do find it much easier to believe that's in large part true.
posted by sfenders at 4:19 PM on December 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


Remove yourself from your current situation. Take a deep breath. Go to google maps and enter 'Attawapiskat' into the search bar. Take a good long look at the satellite image of the community. Notice lack of roads, infrastructure, and vast expanses of what really is untouched wilderness. Think about the fact that polar bears cohabitate with the community. And then take another breath and ask: "What the fuck are humans doing there?"

In the history of the people who lived in Attawapiskat what you would have seen is a culture of people who lived off the land, gathering the local game and bounty to nourish themselves and make living possible in such a challenging climate. This is not what the activities of the people are now. Remote reserve communities in Northern Ontario are all dependent on the rest of the Canadian Economy to sustain them. Literally. Without imported food, gas, industrial machinery, cars, building supplies, clothing etc... society would grind to a halt. The people no longer have the skills necessary to survive independently.

"There are over 2800 members of Attawapiskat First Nation, but the local on-reserve population was [3] 1,929 in 2010. More than a third of the members of the Attawapiskat First Nation who still live on their home reserve are under the age of 19 and three-quarters are under the age of 35 (2010-12-03)"

What we have here is simply put a population explosion. 3/4 of people in the community are under the age of 35? When you search for answers as to why this has happened it is because food has become ever more abundant as regular flights into remote communities created a culture of consumption of imports. Attawapiskat has pushed itself beyond the carrying capacity of the land. The consequences of too much reproduction hold true for humans as well as any other species on this planet: collapse. Pissing and moaning about the lack of government support still doesn't address the fact that this globe is not equally saturated with resources. Those who live in marginal areas well should remember that.


Have you ever considered that when there are demographics such as Attawapiskat has the society that MUST collapse? If the rest of Canada had such demographics it would collapse. In fact the aging of the baby boomers very well may collapse Canadian society. Before this was a federal budgeting problem, it was a problem of a community not monitoring it's own growth rate, not taking steps to make sure it could sustain itself, not being responsible and reflective as a group. All communities that live life that way are poised for such hardships.

Who's fault is it that the community did not monitor itself? That's an interesting and separate argument, with many more nuances that can be addressed here.

What do I think the people of Attawapiskat should do about their situation? Aggressively seize and hold the De-Bere's diamond mine, at which point they will have a barging chip leverage what they need out of the government or diamond company.
posted by ubermasterson at 4:35 PM on December 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think the context of these actions is what's important here, sfenders. These are people who, over the centuries, were killed off, pushed further north, cordoned and ignored. At the end of this long string of abuses comes this. If we were talking about some small town in Canada with otherwise fine relations with the rest of the country who one year didn't get the funding they needed to face the winter, you might be right. But within historical context, yes, this level of neglect does fall under the category of a laundry list of genocidal practices that have gone on for hundreds of years.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 4:36 PM on December 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think laying out definition of your terms would be useful in this discussion, sfenders. There are several debated definitions of genocide; I like this one from Raphael Lemkin, who coined the word:
"By 'genocide' we mean the destruction of an ethnic group . . . . Generally speaking, genocide does not necessarily mean the immediate destruction of a nation, except when accomplished by mass killings of all members of a nation. It is intended rather to signify a coordinated plan of different actions aiming at the destruction of essential foundations of the life of national groups, with the aim of annihilating the groups themselves. The objectives of such a plan would be disintegration of the political and social institutions, of culture, language, national feelings, religion, and the economic existence of national groups, and the destruction of the personal security, liberty, health, dignity, and even the lives of the individuals belonging to such groups . . ."
From an outsider's perspective, the government's treatment of the Attawapiskat people lines up nicely on several of those points.
posted by nicebookrack at 4:46 PM on December 4, 2011 [4 favorites]


So, sfenders, it's only genocide if someone vicerally wants to eliminate the culture, but if the ethnicity gets eliminated (or, ahem, wiped away, cleansed you might say) through a series of unfortunate accidents that happen to benefit the broader, dominant population, hey, that stuff just happens? It's the elimination of an entire ethnicity, just not in a really bad way?

Sort of like "murder by neglect" if you pass on the chance to save someone from death because you'd rather they died.

Your analogy removes the culpability of the neglecting party in the cause of the death. A closer analogy might be if you accidentally knocked someone overboard on a ship and said "aw, shucks, I'm kinda busy and I've got some of my own stuff to take care of, but hey, here's a pool float" instead of going and getting a lifejacket or a lifeboat much less bringing in the Coast Guard. I would be willing to call that homicide, personally.

It also leaves out the benefits accrued from the dominant culture disruptively settling the continent. ubermasterson mentioned diamonds and in trying to find out more about the mineral resources that - oops - ended up not being owned by the original inhabitants of the region I came across the Ontario Ministry of Northern Development and Mines. It would seem that the government facilities taking care of infrastructure, cultural development, and services for the disabled (not sure if those are to benefit Indigenous Ontarians at all based on what people have said above) somehow got tacked on to the activity of coordinating mineral extraction. What a curious coincidence.

On preview, nicebookrack said it more succinctly than me.
posted by XMLicious at 5:23 PM on December 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


Attawapiskat has pushed itself beyond the carrying capacity of the land.

Meanwhile, Toronto is doing just fine, thanks to its highly sustainable lifestyle, amirite? If your answer to these problems is "assimilate", you haven't been paying attention for the last 200 years.
posted by mek at 5:30 PM on December 4, 2011 [10 favorites]


Actually, thinking about terminology - sfenders, is what you're saying maybe more along the lines of that this is not a holocaust? I could agree with that, I just don't think that "holocaust" and "genocide" are synonymous; as the Lemkin quote illustrates, genocide doesn't have to involve quick methods nor an evil mastermind you can point fingers at and it happens very, very frequently.
posted by XMLicious at 5:41 PM on December 4, 2011


Blazecock Pileon writes "Perhaps one way to address this is to help consumers associate Canadian-sourced diamonds with blood diamonds. The human cost seems to be on the same moral scale. "

Seriously? That the sort of exaggerated sound biting of this issue one would expect out of Fox News. The mine in question is not in a war zone. Profits aren't being used to fund an insurgency or war effort. Funds aren't being diverted to warlords. Diamonds are not being traded for weapons.
posted by Mitheral at 5:58 PM on December 4, 2011


Well written article. I agree there tends to be far too much vitriol, and not enough reasoned discourse, leaking out of much of the debate on issues like this. From both sides. The 'genocide' comments are not helping.

One thing that I feel gets ignored by much of the pro-Native/Traditional Culture/etc side is the underlying reason many Canadians are either apathetic or outright hostile when these issues come up. It isn't bigotry, or not just that. ubermasterson hit the nail on the head. Forget about the specific issues affecting Attawapiskat right now. Nearly all indigenous settlements in Canada, at least those not able to commute to an existing centre of commerce, are simply not economically sustainable.

They are not living off the land, utilizing only the skills and tools of their ancestors. They live in modern houses, make use of modern medicine, tools and clothing yet produce very little to pay for any of this. In most cases, these settlements have no modern reason to exist. They are not mining or lumber towns, there are no factories or offices. Any other population of Canadians would have been forced to move long ago to greener pastures, but the simple chance of having 'special' ancestors entitles them to endless subsidy from the rest of Canada.

The 'average' Canadian sees this and is gets offended. That is where the anger comes from. People don't see it as an issue of 'preserving culture', they see it as being expecting to fund special privileges for an isolated group. Is that fair? Probably not.
posted by vohk at 6:14 PM on December 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


It's totally "fair" to "subsidize" or fund so-called "special privileges" for isolated groups. In many cases there are specific treaty obligations - don't forget, First Nations were "here" first. As well, if you think of bands or reserves as municipalities, which they are, then grants, subsidies begin to make more sense. In Canada, municipalities are not self-contained - grants and transfers from provincial and federal governments augment local revenues; school boards are a good example of this. Reserves and band councils should be no

One of the many challenges First Nations have is education, which is tied to everything from infant health and infant mortality, to economic development. There's also access to capital. And profound environmental damage like we see in the Interior region of British Columbia, where pine beetle has transformed the entire ecology of a region the size of western Europe, yet First Nations are excepted to somehow find their way into the 21st century.

In BC, one of the only positive legacies left by Gordon Campbell was a willingness to build bridges between the provincial government and First Nations, and it would be wise to continue to build bridges and actually engage First Nations.

There's something like 13 mines lined up to be opened in BC, but, one after the other, they are running into roadblocks because of opposition from local First Nations.

Why the opposition? The number-one reason band leaders give is lack of consultation. And from what I've seen of the elites that run BC, I can totally believe it.
posted by KokuRyu at 6:49 PM on December 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


It's true that it is easy to look at indigenous reservations completely out of context and wonder why they aren't "living off the land." Of course the reality is that the Canadian government actively removed them from economically valuable land and placed them in reserves, and it's no coincidence a vast majority of those tiny reserves are junk land we didn't care about. eg. It's not like we're going to restore ownership of the downtown core of Vancouver to the Musqueam tribe any time soon, so asking them to "be productive" inside of their reserves is absurd.

Arguing that natives are bad at capitalism is intrinsically endorsing theft and violence as legitimate mechanisms of land acquisition, as that's what a great deal of North American land claims are traceable to. If we're all playing by the rules then we owe indigenous peoples a few hundred years of rent. But we didn't play by the rules, and we're acknowledging that now, I hope.

Here's a map of reserves in BC, well under 1% of total land, most too small to see without serious use of the zoom function. They are 5% of BC's population.
posted by mek at 6:58 PM on December 4, 2011 [8 favorites]


I guess my question would be, vohk, why does this happen again and again and again? The native groups in Siberia that died out during the 20th century didn't have any sort of special privileges to my knowledge but that didn't result in them going off to start mining and lumber operations. (Or, for example, convert their fishing grounds to hydroelectric power plants.) In the U.S., with the exception of the Manshantucket Pequot down in Connecticut, all of the reservations I've been to out West have been crushingly poor, worse than any of the poor rural communities I've been to outside of them.

It seems to me that something majorly messes up indigenous cultures that become enveloped and/or dislocated by settlers this way, often messes them up fatally. It basically a "you broke it, you bought it" situation to me; as mek points out, no one is showing any sign of wanting to put everything back the way it was before colonization and call it even, or even in many cases put it back to the way it was a century ago.

I'm sorry you think that mentioning genocide is "not helping", but does that mean that you just don't want to even discuss the possibility of these people simply disappearing a few decades down the road, due to incidents just like this one? The simple chance of having the right ancestors, that you're saying the average Canadian sees as a source of lucrative privileges, appears to me to have some pretty major downsides.
posted by XMLicious at 7:45 PM on December 4, 2011


Who's fault is it that the community did not monitor itself? That's an interesting and separate argument, with many more nuances that can be addressed here.

There is a profound lack of compassion in your comments. How much do you know about "aboriginal affairs" in Canada?

From much of the 20th century, native children were taken from their parents, and were placed in "residential schools." Speaking one's native language was forbidden (and even punished), and children were forcibly converted to Christianity.

The end result was an emotionally (and, often, physically) damaged generation of parents, and a cycle of substance dependency and abuse.

Not to stereotype here, but First Nations in Canada make up a true underclass - you can't bootstrap yourself into a middle-class lifestyle if you have no education and no real family support.

There is no access to education. If you try to leave the reserve, there is support network in the cities. You look at William Pickton's victims, and the victims of Hwy 16, the "highway of tears", and they are mostly First Nations.

And yet you expect these people to somehow rise above the corruption of the band council system.

What a lack of compassion.
posted by KokuRyu at 7:55 PM on December 4, 2011 [4 favorites]


vohk writes "The 'average' Canadian sees this and is gets offended. That is where the anger comes from. People don't see it as an issue of 'preserving culture', they see it as being expecting to fund special privileges for an isolated group. Is that fair? Probably not."

Also, and this isn't meant to excuse the action or inaction of the federal government, it's not like sub standard living conditions are the exclusive perview of First Nations people. Depending on whose numbers you want to believe something like 150-300,000 Canadians are outright homeless. It's a horrible problem that all levels of government have been failing to adequately address.

KokuRyu writes "There's something like 13 mines lined up to be opened in BC, but, one after the other, they are running into roadblocks because of opposition from local First Nations.

"Why the opposition? The number-one reason band leaders give is lack of consultation. And from what I've seen of the elites that run BC, I can totally believe it."


Somewhat ironically many of the mines that are going ahead are on band land. This gives the band the power to force jobs to be given to band members and official opposition is greatly reduced.

mek writes "Arguing that natives are bad at capitalism is intrinsically endorsing theft and violence as legitimate mechanisms of land acquisition, as that's what a great deal of North American land claims are traceable to"

Private land everywhere is like this, not just in BC or Canada. And it's not like First Nations were peacefully co-existing with each other in territorial stasis in pre-Columbian times. There was constant jockeying for resources and out right war between different groups even before the Europeans arrived on the scene. There isn't a significant piece of land anywhere that doesn't have a contested title if you go back far enough.

mek writes "Here's a map of reserves in BC, well under 1% of total land, most too small to see without serious use of the zoom function. They are 5% of BC's population."

Note however that 94% of BC is Crown land (IE: Owned by the government).
posted by Mitheral at 8:00 PM on December 4, 2011


They are not living off the land, utilizing only the skills and tools of their ancestors.

This, of course, has nothing to do with the several generations long interruption in traditional culture that residential schools imposed. Or the "Sixties Scoop" that followed it.

They live in modern houses, make use of modern medicine, tools and clothing yet produce very little to pay for any of this.

Except for those folks living in tar paper shacks and tents.

In most cases, these settlements have no modern reason to exist. They are not mining or lumber towns, there are no factories or offices. Any other population of Canadians would have been forced to move long ago to greener pastures, but the simple chance of having 'special' ancestors entitles them to endless subsidy from the rest of Canada.

Right. Canada, a country built on native land, on resources stolen from the original inhabitants, whose policies going back hundreds of years sought to either eliminate or assimilate those who survived the first slaughters, really gets the short end of the stick here.

Native people don't have portable rights. If they want the meagre scraps their "specialness" entitles them to, they have to stay put.
posted by looli at 8:10 PM on December 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


You really, really cannot underestimate the impact of the residential schools. Imagine if everyone in your family older than your parents grew up in institutions where they were physically and sexually abused, and had their kids stolen from them. Your parents can't help with your education, you get zero inheritance, there's no uncle who can give you a leg up ... but even worse no one knows how to raise a child, no one knows what it's like to pick a spouse and raise a stable family, no one will invest in the future because there might not be one. Societies can lift themselves up after wars and plagues and famines, but forcible destruction of all family structure is a wound that may take centuries to heal. There might ultimately be nothing the government of Canada can do to repair the damage it inflicted, but it should do everything it can.
posted by miyabo at 8:38 PM on December 4, 2011 [3 favorites]


XMLicious: as the Lemkin quote illustrates, genocide doesn't have to involve quick methods nor an evil mastermind

Right, it requires a "coordinated plan ... with the aim of annihilating the groups themselves." If the whole campaign from the 15th century until today was all one big operation, I would call it genocide. It wasn't, it's history, and the people operating today aim for no such thing.

They may on occasion aim to unjustly grab some mineral resources, as you suggest. That may well be bad for the people already in a tough spot due to the after-effects of "the dominant culture disruptively settling the continent" and the rest of the history since then. But now it is just another territorial dispute between two tribes who in this case happen to have a rather odd and dysfunctional relationship going on due to whatever treaties and subsequent renegotiations were arrived at. The federal government does still meddle in various other ways that they shouldn't, but that is just what governments do to everyone. They're not out to persecute anyone for being ethnically different. Cultural identity comes into it mostly as a tool the smaller smaller one uses to defend itself. I wish them success in that.
posted by sfenders at 8:54 PM on December 4, 2011


If you live in Toronto and have some warm blankets, coats, baby formula, diapers, towels, warm children's clothing or sporting equipment to give, some pals and I have organized a donation drive. Details here.

I'm too emotionally invested in this to deal with some of the callousness going on in this thread. So Imma just gonna hold my tongue for now.
posted by emilycardigan at 9:30 PM on December 4, 2011 [3 favorites]


The federal government does still meddle in various other ways that they shouldn't, but that is just what governments do to everyone.

This right here is a perfect example of "false equivalence".
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 9:47 PM on December 4, 2011 [5 favorites]


Mek Wrote:

Meanwhile, Toronto is doing just fine, thanks to its highly sustainable lifestyle, amirite? If your answer to these problems is "assimilate", you haven't been paying attention for the last 200 years.

Um... I think you've missed the point. Residential schools successfully have forced them to assimilate. The colonization is complete. The children on reserves covet Hannah Montanna lunch boxes and Dora socks. People aren't out hunting seals and moose as a sole means to existence they are playing X-box. The population explosion is a result of assimilation, and any serious attempt to support such growth would be considered ridiculous by current Government. Be as outraged as you want at how 'government' has behaved in this regard, but if you're a non-Native Citizen of Canada your hands are as red as any other non-native citizens. The crimes have been inherited by both sides, and for generations now, through hundreds of years.


"There is a profound lack of compassion in your comments. How much do you know about "aboriginal affairs" in Canada?

From much of the 20th century, native children were taken from their parents, and were placed in "residential schools." Speaking one's native language was forbidden (and even punished), and children were forcibly converted to Christianity.

The end result was an emotionally (and, often, physically) damaged generation of parents, and a cycle of substance dependency and abuse.

Not to stereotype here, but First Nations in Canada make up a true underclass - you can't bootstrap yourself into a middle-class lifestyle if you have no education and no real family support.

There is no access to education. If you try to leave the reserve, there is support network in the cities. You look at William Pickton's victims, and the victims of Hwy 16, the "highway of tears", and they are mostly First Nations.

And yet you expect these people to somehow rise above the corruption of the band council system. "


First I want you to know that your condescension bleeds through my screen and is staining my desk. How much you know about Aboriginal Affairs in Canada? You write from some place of authority. Are you in fact sitting in one? Would it surprise you find out that I already knew everything you wrote? This does not change anything. Communities that are remote need to be more accountable to themselves because if they are not then the jeopardize the safety of themselves. Population growth was the number one factor in Attawapiskat needing new homes.

I can tell you that Attawapiskat is not a lone tragedy. This will happen on reserves across all of remote Canada if there is not more self imposed, self motivated, and self-sustained leadership to address real aboriginal problems within the aboriginal communities. You are absolutely right when you point out that there is a mindset of learned helplessness on reserves. No amount of federal funding will change that. That shit has got to come from within.
posted by ubermasterson at 10:07 PM on December 4, 2011 [3 favorites]


KokuRyu - The people who live in those municipalities also generally pay taxes to offset a significant portion of that subsidy. Those schools would become much more economically feasible to provide if they relocated to an area that had a economic justification to exist. Is that callous? Really? More so than keeping them in an area where they will likely never get any economic or educational opportunities? I don't see it as being all that much worse than what happens when a mining town burns out.

XMLicious: I guess my question would be, vohk, why does this happen again and again and again? The native groups in Siberia that died out during the 20th century didn't have any sort of special privileges to my knowledge but that didn't result in them going off to start mining and lumber operations. (Or, for example, convert their fishing grounds to hydroelectric power plants.) In the U.S., with the exception of the Manshantucket Pequot down in Connecticut, all of the reservations I've been to out West have been crushingly poor, worse than any of the poor rural communities I've been to outside of them.

I really don't have the background or time to give that thought the attention it deserves. I want to clarify one thing however: I was not suggesting the the native groups should go run off and start mines and such, just that the reserves provide no incentive for development. They depend on modern convenience but don't produce anything to pay for it. It becomes the equivalent to a mining/fishing/mill town with no mine, fishery or mill. That's not a sustainable situation.

It seems to me that something majorly messes up indigenous cultures that become enveloped and/or dislocated by settlers this way, often messes them up fatally. It basically a "you broke it, you bought it" situation to me; as mek points out, no one is showing any sign of wanting to put everything back the way it was before colonization and call it even, or even in many cases put it back to the way it was a century ago.

But where does that end? Is all of Canada now responsible for ensuring the descendents of the remaining tribes are able to live in isolated communities for all time? Endless reparations for the actions of people who are now dead, for crimes committed against the deceased? Is it really more generous to prop up the current, impossibly broken, system than it would be to encourage them to move into existing, sustainable communities?

Why is it that every immigrant group represented in Canada has managed to preserve a great deal of their original culture without needing to live on a reserve with their own set of rules?

I'm sorry you think that mentioning genocide is "not helping", but does that mean that you just don't want to even discuss the possibility of these people simply disappearing a few decades down the road, due to incidents just like this one? The simple chance of having the right ancestors, that you're saying the average Canadian sees as a source of lucrative privileges, appears to me to have some pretty major downsides.

I think that calling it genocide does not have the effect you hope for. You rally people who are already on your side, sure, but many others hear genocide and immediately think of examples like Rwanda and Yugoslavia. Whether genocide includes neglect is debatable, and by accusing the government of Canada (and, by extension, all Canadians) of genocide you shift the focus into a fight about the definition rather than the issue at hand.

Personally, I feel there is a difference between murdering thousands of people and one culture destroying another over a period of decades. That is not even remotely related to saying I support the treatment they have received, but too often it seems that a guilt driven urge to 'make it right' is getting in the way of considering workable solutions to the underlying problem.
posted by vohk at 10:13 PM on December 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


Why is it that every immigrant group represented in Canada has managed to preserve a great deal of their original culture without needing to live on a reserve with their own set of rules?

Here's a hint: indigenous people are not immigrants.

And I haven't seen these sorts of semantic acrobatics over the word "genocide" since the Clinton administration.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 10:23 PM on December 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


They are not living off the land, utilizing only the skills and tools of their ancestors. They live in modern houses, make use of modern medicine, tools and clothing yet produce very little to pay for any of this. In most cases, these settlements have no modern reason to exist. They are not mining or lumber towns, there are no factories or offices. Any other population of Canadians would have been forced to move long ago to greener pastures, but the simple chance of having 'special' ancestors entitles them to endless subsidy from the rest of Canada.

The 'average' Canadian sees this and is gets offended. That is where the anger comes from. People don't see it as an issue of 'preserving culture', they see it as being expecting to fund special privileges for an isolated group. Is that fair? Probably not.


Wow. I just... I don't even know where to start with this. It saddens me tremendously to know that this is likely the opinion held by numbers of Canadians. Actually, it breaks my heart and leaves me speechless.
posted by jokeefe at 11:17 PM on December 4, 2011 [3 favorites]


vohk: I think that calling it genocide does not have the effect you hope for. You rally people who are already on your side, sure, but many others hear genocide and immediately think of examples like Rwanda and Yugoslavia. Whether genocide includes neglect is debatable, and by accusing the government of Canada (and, by extension, all Canadians) of genocide you shift the focus into a fight about the definition rather than the issue at hand.

This involves at least some people living in a subarctic climate in uninsulated tents, according to the MP. How long are they going to last? And this is at the point in history when Canada is as wealthy as it's ever been, according to Wikipedia's federal budget figures?

The Ethnologue database focuses on living languages but even so you can see that they go extinct in Canada all the time. So to reiterate, indigenous groups disappearing happens all the time.

I'm not calling it genocide for an effect or to create a guilt-driven urge. I'm not a campaigner or a journalist on this issue at all. I'm agreeing with the description others are giving of what actually appears to have happened / be happening here so that we can talk about what's really going on.

sfenders describes this as a "tough spot" and "just another territorial dispute"; it looks to me as though resistance to the word "genocide" is downplaying the severity of the situation. I appreciate that you're at least willing to characterize this as "one culture destroying another over a period of decades" vohk but to mark that as a less consequential destruction of a culture because genocide would involve more stabbing and less hypothermia and drinking of water that's "so corrosive it was rotting the pipes", and getting cholera and dysentery because 90 people are sharing six washrooms and shitting in buckets and pouring it in open sewer ditches, I don't think it's me who is shifting the argument to definitions.

It doesn't sound like anyone has died yet (or caught cholera and dysentery, it just says that there are concerns about "infectious diseases") but I have to imagine that lots of people succumbed to similar conditions in camps during what you guys would consider genuine genocides. If there aren't any Mushkego left a few decades from now the fact that they were living like this almost twelve years into the 21st century isn't going to look really great on the history books.

Is it really more generous to prop up the current, impossibly broken, system than it would be to encourage them to move into existing, sustainable communities?

Seems like they should be involved in the decision but I would say sure, resettle them if that's what it takes to get them out of this kind of situation.
posted by XMLicious at 11:43 PM on December 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


The posts that bewilderbeast and Jairus linked to, by MPs Saganash and Angus, are worth a read. Here's Saganash:

The bigger picture explains why Attawapiskat should not be seen in isolation. The situation there is the result of deliberate policies.

It begins with the Crown breaking the partnerships with First Nations that formed the basis of the treaties and ignoring their own laws, like the Royal Proclamation of 1763. Yes, history matters if you want to understand how we got to this point.

It is followed by a policy of segregation. They invented the idea of "status" Indians, as defined by the Crown, and created reserves, where the Crown chose what it thought was valueless land and compelled people to stay there.

That was followed by the policy of assimilation, where the Crown reversed itself and started encouraging people to leave reserves to join the rest of Canadian society. Encouragement took the form of legislation that stripped people of their "status" and denied them the right to live with their families and communities if they did things like get an education.

The policy of assimilation is still in place. Only now, the Government of Canada uses talk of formal equality -- treating everyone exactly the same -- to justify treating First Nations like they have no Aboriginal or treaty rights, despite the Constitution of Canada and the UN Declaration.

So, there will be no partnership with First Nations to support them in self-government. There will be no co-operation in planning and implementing effective long-term strategies to make reserves liveable. There will be no money to help catch up from decades of neglect and mismanagement by a distant bureaucracy. There will be red tape and catch-22s and bureaucratic inertia. The plan is that the reserves will fail and people will have to move away. Those who don't die first.

That plan is what John Duncan is hinting at when he talks about "unviable reserves." They're pressing to close them down and send people into the cities as they tried with Kashechewan. They are introducing legislation to privatize reserve lands so that they can be sold or taken in default of loans. The fact that this will make resources, like the diamonds around Attawapiskat, more readily and cheaply available to developers is pure coincidence, I'm sure.

There are solutions. Working in the original spirit of partnership, supported rather than constrained in self-governance, First Nations can move forward. The deal that I helped negotiate between the Grand Council of the Crees and the Government of Quebec called La Paix des Braves has achieved some of that and is benefitting people from all communities in the area, Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal, right now. It is not the only example. That is what is meant by reconciliation.


Pretty damning. Would like to see more solutions/reconciliations. They seem to be few and far between.
posted by Listener at 11:52 PM on December 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


It's a structural problem and a constitutional problem. And a bureaucratic problem. How much money is wasted paying non-native bureaucrats in Ottawa at the utterly useless Department of Indian Affairs or whatever it is called these days.

Hard to change things, as that would require consensus, and, as we've seen, First Nations and aboriginal folk are hardly monolithic in terms of outlook and agenda.

Personally, I think education and access to capital are the keys to success.
posted by KokuRyu at 12:53 AM on December 5, 2011


The mine in question is not in a war zone.

The locals live in -40 degree weather in a tent, no sewage facilities, breathing black mold, being given body bags in lieu of basic healthcare, etc. Sure sounds like the end result of a war zone, to me.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:39 AM on December 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


Seems like they should be involved in the decision but I would say sure, resettle them if that's what it takes to get them out of this kind of situation.

I think "help them decide how to get out of this kind of situation and prevent it, including appropriate financial support and shared governance" and not "forcibly resettle them again" is closer to the answer.
posted by jeather at 5:10 AM on December 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


The whole thing would be shocking if the same sort of xenophobic bullshit hadn't been perpetrated on thousands of other technologically inferior tribes all over the world. It should be shocking, but shock implies surprise. Instead it's "merely" an epic tragedy. Countless small tribal societies simply thrown into a blender set for frappè and just when everything is all ground up into bits there's an oh-shit moment and they dump out the carafe on the counter and look at the bloody mess and then scratch their heads and say well, sorry about that, here's a few dollars and your land back so... hey! Good luck! Give us a call sometime and let us know how you're doing.

There's nothing Canada can do to "ungrind" the sausage they've made of First Nations societies. And despite the fact that few people alive today had anything to do with the decisions, our anglo society, as the society that fucked them over, is absolutely responsible to their societies to help them put the pieces back together.

And that means money, it means education, it means training, it means bending way the fuck over backwards because we fucked it up collectively, so we have to make it right collectively.
posted by seanmpuckett at 8:25 AM on December 5, 2011 [4 favorites]


...it requires a “coordinated plan ... with the aim of annihilating the groups themselves.” If the whole campaign from the 15th century until today was all one big operation, I would call it genocide. It wasn't, it's history, and the people operating today aim for no such thing.

I can't believe that it didn't occur to me until just now that this is a contradictory statement.

If intentionally pursuing a course that has a high likelihood of ending a culture or civilization is only genocide if that's explicitly the end goal, then almost none of the cultures that have vanished in the course of colonization, anywhere, would count as genocide. If the root cause was simply that the colonizers wanted their stuff, it's just "history", one of the eliminating-a-society-but-not-in-such-a-bad-way-I-mean-it's-nicer-than-the-Holocaust things.

Even, for example, destroying a group by kidnapping and enslaving them all wouldn't be genocide under this definition. Technically, even if they were all worked to death.
posted by XMLicious at 12:54 PM on December 6, 2011 [2 favorites]


That word should be reserved for doing worse things to people than not building houses for them.

If I steal your house and all your resources and leave you out in -40 degree weather, I guess it's not murder either, yeah?

"I was SO SURPRISED Officer. I didn't know -40 degree weather could HURT people. If only he learned to build a house on his own, instead of being so lazy."
posted by yeloson at 3:20 PM on December 6, 2011


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