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The devil is in the details.
June 24, 2009 7:44 AM   Subscribe

First Nations (aboriginal) communities in Canada often have levels of squalor and health outcomes comparable to developing nations [PDF]. Abuse of alcohol and other drugs is rife. Generally low health care levels in these communities has led to outbreaks of H1N1 (swine flu). While the distribution of hand sanitizer might help control these outbreaks, the Canadian government is hesitant to do so out of fear that the alcohol-based sanitizer will be ingested. Some argue that this is nothing more than continued paternalism that has reduced the First peoples of Canada to their present state.
posted by modernnomad (63 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite

 
These are the sorts of files I'm sure public servants hope and pray they don't have to deal with.
posted by chunking express at 7:46 AM on June 24, 2009


Was there something wrong with peroxide-based sanitizers if they were so worried about the alcohol?
posted by Nothing at 7:54 AM on June 24, 2009 [2 favorites]


I doubt it's much better on the US reservations.

Also, hand sanitizer isn't as effective against viruses as soap and water. Why not make sure they have those instead?
posted by orrnyereg at 7:57 AM on June 24, 2009


Speaking of someone who has drank rubbing alcohol mixed with grapejuice, had Sterno and sniffed gas or airplane glue, I can attest to the idea that if they don't drink their hand sanitizer, they will get their fix somewhere else.
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 7:57 AM on June 24, 2009 [7 favorites]


"Speaking AS.." weird.
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 7:58 AM on June 24, 2009


In all fairness, a splash of hand sanitizer with some orange juice on the rocks can be incredibly addicting. It's good for Canada to consider all the dangers.
posted by Bageena at 7:58 AM on June 24, 2009


Good lord. An alcoholic is going to drink if they want to drink, regardless of you withholding your sanitizer/mouthwash/whatever. Alcoholics in recovery are hopefully not on such tenuous grounds that a bottle of sanitizer would cause them to break sobriety.

If they're really worried about high rates of addiction, provide them some fucking drug treatment.

Gah.
posted by Devils Rancher at 8:00 AM on June 24, 2009 [3 favorites]


if they don't drink their hand sanitizer, they will get their fix somewhere else.

Or maybe not all aboriginal people are alcoholics, and won't feel a need to get a fix from commercial cleaning/bonding/whatever products.

I know that's not what you meant, but I think you were missing the point a little bit.
posted by arcticwoman at 8:00 AM on June 24, 2009 [1 favorite]


Hmm, saving lives vs. hyperbolic edge case alcoholism?

Good job Canada - just let nature finish that genocide for you, right?
posted by yeloson at 8:00 AM on June 24, 2009


Never mind the broader national paternalism and greed that requires denaturing alcohol for sale at the drug store (as opposed to the government liquor store).
posted by acro at 8:03 AM on June 24, 2009 [1 favorite]


Isn't is just as "paternalistic" to provide the sanitizer? "Paternalistic" just seems laden with political implications that converts this complicated and tragic reality into something...well, simple is the wrong word but maybe pat.
posted by Hypnotic Chick at 8:12 AM on June 24, 2009 [2 favorites]


This incredibly sad story is quintessentially Canadian, in that no-one on either side of the issue wants to take responsibility for their actions.
posted by you just lost the game at 8:16 AM on June 24, 2009 [1 favorite]


It's sad and so FUBAR that I'm not sure how anyone's going to untangle the Gordian knot.
posted by kldickson at 8:19 AM on June 24, 2009


I just never understand what the "proper" action is supposed to be in these cases. The past is done, and it can't be undone, so what now?

If the "white people's government" does nothing, it's "letting nature finish that genocide". First peoples will continue to live as they have in the past, which may or may not be sustainable, and is certainly not to the same standards in certain aspects such as health care.

If the government does intercede, then it's "paternalism" and destruction of their culture as they assimilate into the broader country.

When ways of life are not sustainable, they must change. In this case, the ancient ways of life and the living conditions that come with it are considered "squalor" and a "short lifespan" only in comparison to industrialized construction and the lifespan afforded by modern medicine.
posted by explosion at 8:25 AM on June 24, 2009 [9 favorites]


Goddamn.
posted by peggynature at 8:27 AM on June 24, 2009


arcticwoman: "if they don't drink their hand sanitizer, they will get their fix somewhere else.

Or maybe not all aboriginal people are alcoholics, and won't feel a need to get a fix from commercial cleaning/bonding/whatever products.

I know that's not what you meant, but I think you were missing the point a little bit.
"

Hmmm. No. I think I got the point quite well. Someone in Canada believes that denying hand sanitizer will mean jack shit in preventing someone from getting high. Someone who is determined to get high will find any means necessary.

Unless you're implying that people who do drink hand sanitizer are social drinkers, I'm confused by your statement.
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 8:29 AM on June 24, 2009


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posted by GuyZero at 8:30 AM on June 24, 2009


Never mind the broader national paternalism and greed that requires denaturing alcohol for sale at the drug store (as opposed to the government liquor store).

That's not paternalism, that's fallout from the weird idea of taxing a substance differently depending on the intended use. Like putting red dye in diesel fuel for agricultural use to try to make sure it doesn't get used in road-going vehicles.
posted by FishBike at 8:30 AM on June 24, 2009


Not to quibble too much (I'm an epidemiologist[-in-training], it's what we do) but I'd argue that the pervasive overcrowding and poor sanitation in northern Manitoba reserves has more to do with H1N1 transmission than the lack of health care.

The government has covered itself in shame from the beginning of this episode. Chiefs from the affected communities flew to Ottawa to beg the health minister to deploy mobile health units. She sent a flack.

(And to put the cherry on the top of that anecdote, the minister is herself Inuit.)
posted by docgonzo at 8:34 AM on June 24, 2009 [1 favorite]


Why have we come to see corporately produced, branded hand sanitizer as the solution to transmission, rather than plain ol' soap and water, which you can find much more cheaply in generics or even make yourself? Oh wait, I answered my own question.
posted by Miko at 8:40 AM on June 24, 2009


Miko: Many homes in rural and isolated reserves don't have running water.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 8:47 AM on June 24, 2009 [2 favorites]


My understanding from reports like this one (CTV) is that there was a delay in providing sanitizers and that the government has shipped out some sanitizers to some reservations, other reservations got their own alcohol-free stuff before the feds intervened. This doesn't change the fact that there was a delay, or change the rather ill conceived reason for the delay.

Substance abuse in the First Nations is a problem on a scope that is difficult to describe, it is just a crushing- watch this CBC documentary on gas sniffing in 2000 and another from 1993 (this little snapshot of life includes someone getting water from the community well). I must warn you, it is The Sad.

docgonzo & Miko: crowding is part of the problem but it is the LACK OF RUNNING WATER that is also a major part of the issue and these communities that are exceptionally remote, and the near collapse or absence of many of the things everyone in the south take for granted. Remember - TB remains a major issue in the north. That's Tuberculosis people.
I've seen reservations in northern Canada where folks didn't have running water, or anything more than well water (a little chilly in the winter) and many folks up there have a less than stellar immune system.
posted by zenon at 8:56 AM on June 24, 2009 [3 favorites]


Also, hand sanitizer isn't as effective against viruses as soap and water. Why not make sure they have those instead?

Why have we come to see corporately produced, branded hand sanitizer as the solution to transmission, rather than plain ol' soap and water, which you can find much more cheaply in generics or even make yourself?

Exactly! You can't frigging drink a bar of soap! Hell, if you are so caught up in the corporately produced part of government subsidised capitalism, buy them bars of Ivory!
posted by Pollomacho at 8:57 AM on June 24, 2009


Miko: Many homes in rural and isolated reserves don't have running water.

That's a good point I hadn't considered. But still, if public health is the concern, isn't this a much bigger issue? Isn't hand sanitizer a band-aid, making up for the absence of basic services?
posted by Miko at 9:00 AM on June 24, 2009


if public health is the concern, isn't this a much bigger issue? Isn't hand sanitizer a band-aid, making up for the absence of basic services?

Oh, indubitably; but for now, the band-aid is the most immediate solution.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 9:08 AM on June 24, 2009


The Gov't is damned if they do and damned if they don't. At the risk of sounding insensitive, if the native community up there has chosen to remove/isolate themselves from the rest of Canada and it's resources, medical or otherwise, then leave them alone. Unless they directly request specific help, the paternalistic meddling will be seen as just that.
posted by weezy at 9:16 AM on June 24, 2009 [1 favorite]


It is substantially easier and within the national health department's mission to just ship a bunch of hand sanitizers up north. Dealing with infrastructure involves a much bigger issue, and in many ways boils down to the paternalism vs. independence issue explosion touched earlier. In the video's I linked to you would find that running water is only one of the problems facing many reservations. Staggering unemployment, violence, substance abuse, and a failing education system are a few others. The first documentary really made waves in Canada, and for a period of time raised a great deal of awareness for some of the problems facing northern communities.

Weezy: is that your answer for providing aid for other places that are in a pickle, like New Orleans? Why would being up north happen to make a difference for which services the government should provide? (hint: citizenship is citizenship, even for northerns).
posted by zenon at 9:20 AM on June 24, 2009


I very much doubt that the best response to the spread of things like H1N1, Tuberculosis, and Syphilis is a hands off approach.
posted by ODiV at 9:23 AM on June 24, 2009


At the risk of sounding insensitive, if the native community up there has chosen to remove/isolate themselves from the rest of Canada and it's resources, medical or otherwise, then leave them alone.

Chiefs from the affected communities flew to Ottawa to beg the health minister to deploy mobile health units. She sent a flack.

I'm sure there are divergent views amongst the native community about how much interaction there should be with the white government, as there always is, but it doesn't sound to me like, as a whole, they've declined assistance in this case.

It's impossible to speak of tribes as monolithic entities, and statements about the political motives/aims of any tribe are usually only going to represent a plurality, or maybe a simple majority, of opinion on any matter. Same as any political entity anywhere.
posted by Devils Rancher at 9:31 AM on June 24, 2009 [1 favorite]


Also, hand sanitizer isn't as effective against viruses as soap and water. Why not make sure they have those instead?

The Chief confirmed on the radio this morning that many houses on that reserve do not have running water.

Water supply to remote reserves has been a long-running scandal in Canada, with something like 1/3 of all communities not having adequate potable water sources or infrastructure and 2/3 having some kind of health concerns or advisory related to their water. It's just one more of our National shames as Canadians which should really insulate some of us from being so smug on occasion.

CBC: In 2001, three quarters of the drinking water systems on reserves posed potential health risks. CBC filed access to information requests to obtain water audits from 2001. We compared that data with current information to try to understand what has changed. Our findings? Drinking water in two-thirds of communities remains at risk. Seventy-six First Nations communities are currently under boil water advisories. Sixty-two per cent of water operators aren't properly certified.
posted by Rumple at 9:41 AM on June 24, 2009 [1 favorite]


It is incredibly disappointing that Canada pours nearly 10 billion dollars into Aboriginal support, yet we have nearly nothing to show for it.

Part of the problem lies with government idiocy and inefficiency. Part of the problem lies with overwhelming corruption in the reserves. Part of the problem lies with overwhelming social problems in the reserves. It's a horrible mess all around.

The Westbank First Nation is the wealthiest band in Canada. Strangely, though, the ex-chief is a billionaire, while hundreds of people in the tribe are living in substandard housing with unsafe drinking water. Their traditional values of communal land ownership has been thrown out the window, three families own all the valuable property, and every one else in the band is fucked-over.

If a band that is phenomenally wealthy can't manage to do right for its people, how on earth is a destitute band in the middle of nowhere supposed to do any better?

It's a completely shitty situation all around.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:56 AM on June 24, 2009 [8 favorites]


The problem of what to do with First Nations management is echoed in the U.S., obviously, though it's been so differently managed. The essential nugget of the difficulty remains the same, though: how do you solve colonialism? How do you reconcile the needs and wants of occupier and occupied a hundred or more years after the establishment of settlements and governments which are not going to be reversed? The current state of affairs seems miserable on both sides, and yet it's hard to imagine solving a situation of inequality and contested self-determination caused by historical events which today are clearly wrongs, yet which won't be undone.
posted by Miko at 10:04 AM on June 24, 2009 [1 favorite]


five fresh fish: One of the bigger problems that face First Nations people here is the sort of bunker mentality that they have. They are very much against whistle-blowers or those who would speak out against the band councils/elders.

A common worry is that if the bad things that are going on are publicized, then they will all be painted with the same brush. Those who go against the grain are sometimes shunned and ostracized.

It would be interesting to note how many of the people commenting in this thread have any sort of contact with Canadian First Nations people or culture on a regular basis.
posted by davey_darling at 10:21 AM on June 24, 2009 [1 favorite]


ask me about teaching on a remote reserve in Canada

(FYI it's somethingwaful, so be forewarned it will contain idiocy and biased viewpoints, etc , but I thought it might be relevant to getting an idea of how remote some of these areas are and the challenges faced by an everyday person there.)
posted by concreteforest at 10:32 AM on June 24, 2009


I blame Sarah Palin.
posted by Malice at 10:36 AM on June 24, 2009 [1 favorite]


FYI it's somethingwaful...

It's also blocked to nonsubscribers, apparently.
posted by nebulawindphone at 11:16 AM on June 24, 2009


It would be interesting to note how many of the people commenting in this thread have any sort of contact with Canadian First Nations people or culture on a regular basis.

Well, I'm all ears; I have none, and am happy to say so, and to learn from those who have.
posted by Miko at 11:17 AM on June 24, 2009


Speaking as someone presently (and frequently) working in a Native community in the (Alaskan) Arctic, where I see both the problems being discussed here and many positive and beautiful things that get neglected in the pathologizing discourse, reducing genocide to a question of hand sanitizer yay or nay is just f'ing stupid.

Once you start down the path of genocide, there's no way to keep your hands clean, sanitizer or not. Neither the Canadian nor the US governments (for that matter, not the Russians or the Danes or the Norwegians either) can just wash their hands when they're covered in a couple hundred years of Native blood.
posted by fourcheesemac at 11:42 AM on June 24, 2009 [3 favorites]


I work in downtown Winnipeg, which is pretty much the armpit of the nation. I also happen to work in health care, so this pretty much hits home for me. Sorry if I ramble here, but there are so many issues...

Every day when I come in to work and walk from my parking lot my my building, I can pretty much guarantee that I will encounter an aggressive panhandler, a drug deal in the alley I have to walk through, newly broken windows on a car in the parking lot, or shattered bottles tossed everywhere about the alley, parking lot and street. My coworkers all have the same experiences pretty much daily.

Building security here routinely has to move sleeping transients out of the doorways and off the property. They have safe walk programs for people to make it to their cars. Parking is tricky on the street sometimes because the more aggressive panhandlers will block your doors until you drive away or hand over some money. Today, a woman followed me about a block screaming at me about something unintelligible as I walked to my car.

I'm trying really hard not to let this sour my personal belief that these people do not represent the aboriginal population as a whole. I believe that the disadvantages they are handed are extraordinarily hard to overcome, and that those on the street are there through no fault of their own.

The facts are pretty ugly, the substance abuse problems in the aboriginal population are absolutely staggering. I've seen people drinking Listerine, aftershave, dollar store vanilla extract and pretty much anything else you can think of that contains alcohol. Diabetes rates are through the roof both in the cities and on the reserves. Running water remains an issue on many reserves despite a $10b annual budget for Indian Affairs. Inner city violence is on the rise, as are property crimes. The Winnipeg Free press recently had a (non-scientific) poll that reported 80% of people in this city do not feel safe downtown.

Just the other day, the federal government announced another land-treaty settlement, which will pay five bands $7.3m a year for the next ten years. That money is solely in the hands of the elected chiefs of the various bands. The creeping thought at the back of my mind is: I wonder if the money will be as well spent as it was at the Virginia Fontaine Addictions Centre. Corruption in the band councils is rampant, no one is helping the people that need it, and money vanishes down a black hole at an incredible rate.

An email came around here recently looking for volunteer medical staff to temporarily relocate to the reserves to give H1N1 on-site care. Do you want to guess how many people signed up?

So, I don't know what to do to help. I really don't. I donate to the shelters and soup kitchens directly, I don't join in on the regular aboriginal-bashing that occurs in the workplace, and I try to keep level head about the harsh realities of these people's lives.

Honestly though, I keep thinking, if you are born aboriginal in this province, you're fucked.

Sorry for the rant.
posted by WinnipegDragon at 11:48 AM on June 24, 2009 [11 favorites]


Thanks for the perspective, WinnipegDragon.
posted by bicyclefish at 12:32 PM on June 24, 2009


For a little perspective on what many see as a main cause of many of the problems facing Canadian Aboriginal people, check out the wikipedia article on the residential school system.

Basically the theory is that there was an entire generation's worth of tradition and social organization that was destroyed by the residential school system. Now we are seeing the children/grandchildren/great grandchildren of residential school survivors who are still suffering from the aftershocks of what happened to their ancestors.
posted by davey_darling at 1:01 PM on June 24, 2009 [3 favorites]


I hesitate to assign blame to the past, when in the present what we see are corrupt and greedy band leaders pocketing millions of dollars while their fellow people go without. That isn't the fault of residential schools.
posted by five fresh fish at 1:19 PM on June 24, 2009 [1 favorite]




The similarity in situations - and poor excuses given - between the indigenous populations of Australia and Canada are always startling. Remove a few of the adjectives and proper nouns in all the comments above, and you could be talking about Australia. I don't have the answers, I am afraid, but surely if this is happening in so many places around the world there can be some coming together to try and find some answers? (I know that there has been work done between Canadian and Australian groups, but perhaps more could be done?)



It would be interesting to note how many of the people commenting in this thread have any sort of contact with Canadian First Nations people or culture on a regular basis.

I have never been to Canada, but I have worked in remote Australian communities with indigenous kids, and also worked in University research schools dealing with issues directly relating to Indigenous communities including education, health and housing. What always amazes me, in a positive way, is the ability of people who haven't been in these situations to still empathise with the plight of people who live there. That said, I can also understand where WinnipegDragon is coming from.
posted by Megami at 1:31 PM on June 24, 2009


I hesitate to assign blame to the past, when in the present what we see are corrupt and greedy band leaders pocketing millions of dollars while their fellow people go without. That isn't the fault of residential schools.

Of course. But what are the roots of those behaviors? They're historical. In much the same way the U.S. is still dealing with the domino chain started by importing slaves, governments are dealing with the effects of causes whose roots are, indeed, generations old. The people behaving corruptly today didn't spring from the brow of Zeus. What did they hear growing up? Were they taught to feel righteous anger and/or resentment? What value system were they taught to trust - the one calling their behavior corrupt, or the one resulting in individual and family wealth, perhaps settling a score? Why were they in any position to be able to pocket millions of dollars? Why are the others in the band not objecting to this behavior?

I agree that solving present-day problems often has little to do with trying to unravel chains of causation in the past. But it's also true that the array of present-day conditions we're dealing with is the legacy of the past and has causes there. There's a difference between excusing the behaviors of today based on historical disenfranchisement, and recognizing and accepting that today's reality results from those past policies, so that new structures can be put into place. Pre-Colonial Canada is not coming back, so whatever parity is reached will be something that has never before existed.

. Remove a few of the adjectives and proper nouns in all the comments above, and you could be talking about Australia.


You could be talking about anywhere in the world where an existing population was overrun by colonial powers. I think there's a lot to be learned and observed in the struggles of populations with pre-Colonial roots with government structures created by Colonial populations.
posted by Miko at 2:01 PM on June 24, 2009 [5 favorites]


watch this CBC documentary on gas sniffing in 2000

Better yet, don't, if you don't want to be completely bummed out. Jesus Christ, that's depressing. The Native Americans on reservations here in the US are pretty bad off, but not to the point where there's an epidemic of children huffing gas for a brief respite from the soul-crushing despair of their lives. They can obtain real drugs, for one thing, and even being a heroin or meth addict or a drunk is better than being a habitual gas huffer. Those kids have probably already literally huffed themselves retarded. Man, the sight of those native kids standing around in the woods with bags of gas... depressing as hell.
posted by DecemberBoy at 2:40 PM on June 24, 2009


davey_darling: Those who go against the grain are sometimes shunned and ostracized.

from Sherman Alexie, How Dare You Tell The Truth?:
On the reservation, it’s so easy to fall into silence. During the decades when the U.S. government banned our potlatches and spiritual traditions, took away our livelihoods, and sent my grandparents’ generation to boarding schools where they were beaten and harassed for speaking their native language, native people learned to be silent just to survive. Those decades have stayed with us. We have hidden ourselves and our pain beneath addiction, abuse, and poverty. And we are still fighting to reclaim our identities.

Now silence tempts us with its promise not to hurt us, but it’s a promise always broken. We tell ourselves to keep our heads down and our mouths shut because it’s easier to leave our problems buried. Those who speak up ask for trouble; they stir up emotions that no one wants or knows how to deal with. When someone like Sherman Alexie comes along and exposes our pain, people get angry.

I’ve never wanted to betray my community, because the reservation is the one place I’ve always been able to return to. No matter what faults my community has, or what suffering it bears, when I am hurt, brokenhearted, or hopeless, the reservation has always taken me in. But I realize now that it’s not the secrecy that has held us together.
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 2:44 PM on June 24, 2009 [1 favorite]


I've seen people drinking Listerine, aftershave, dollar store vanilla extract and pretty much anything else you can think of that contains alcohol.

I still remember the drifts of Lysol cans from when I was a kid. Drifts of them in empty lots, like metal snowbanks.

That, and the truly gigantic quantities of hard liquor bottles in everyone's garage. Every spring the boyscouts would do a bottle drive as a fundraiser, and we could come out of practically every garage with 55-gallon drums of empty bottles. Not beer, hard liquor. It was only surprising when someone didn't have a few drums full in their garage. Could fill up a high-sided pickup truck in less than a block. It ended up being fairly serious money, practically funded us for an entire year on just one weekend.

God, the smell of stale scotch still makes me think of northern Canada. More than snow does, even.
posted by aramaic at 3:42 PM on June 24, 2009


in the present what we see are corrupt and greedy band leaders pocketing millions of dollars while their fellow people go without. That isn't the fault of residential schools.
Of course. But what are the roots of those behaviors? They're historical.


I disagree. The roots of those behaviours is simple human greed. Blaming residential schools is to allow the corrupt to get away with it. That is unconscionable. Our Ministry of Indian and Northern Affairs Canada needs to man-up and put an end to the corruption on the reserves.

There has never been a whiff of scandal about residential schools in this area of Canada. ex-Chief R isn't a billionaire because residential schools damaged his tribal peoples: he's a billionaire because his family stole a huge amount of land from the tribe and because he has absolutely no qualms about fucking-over his fellow citizens, leaving them to live in squalor and filth while he tools about in his goddamn half-million dollar Maybach.
posted by five fresh fish at 4:21 PM on June 24, 2009


It's interesting to look at some of the (relatively modern) timeline of the Canadian government's dealings with Aboriginal groups. In the late 60's, a man was arrested for being drunk, "Indian", and off-reservation. Now, that didn't get a conviction, but only due to the Bill of Rights, which itself was only passed in 1960. Prior to that, there's no question that it was a crime to be an Aboriginal drunk anywhere but a reserve.

Contrary to that, in 1974, it was upheld that women who married outside their Band lost their Indian status. Whereas, of course, men who did the same kept theirs. The argument in this case was that although people were "equal before the law", this phrasing, aided by the fact that the Bill of Rights was not a constitutional document (that would be the Charter, in 1982), was determined by the Supreme Court to mean that as long as no individual women were above the law, it was fine. So as long as all women are discriminated against, it's ok (or at least legal). In 1974.

However. I would be remiss if I didn't tell you that in this case about women losing their status, there's some evidence that the court (which is a bit more openly concerned with effects & politics than the American) was influenced by the fact that almost every single Indian group came out against those women. To some degree, the Aboriginal groups that are in power (I hesitate to say traditionally this is true, but that's only because I don't know either way) are male-dominated and sexist. This adds on with the comments above about some bands being blatantly corrupt, which is also very true.

In esssence, Canada does not have the nicest history with the legal rights of Aboriginals. This comes as no surprise.

But it's a lot more complicated than that, especially in more recent years (the past 30). Perhaps the most important case dealing with Aboriginals (and certainly the turning point) was Calder, and it gave rise to the fact that Aboriginal Title (that is to say, land title) exists, and that their right to the land comes from their ancestral possession of the land, not from the "generosity" of the Government of Canada/Britain. From this, and from a few other cases (Delgamuukw, Guerin), it has been positively established that the Aboriginal people are close, if not completely, on the "same level" as the governments (provincial / federal) and that negotiations between them are more akin to a treaty between two sovereign peoples (very very roughly).

The courts have forced the government to err in favour of Aboriginals when examining ye olde treaties, because they have the completely correct thinking that at the time, the various Bands were not literate (in English), that the Crown took advantage of this by verbally claiming one agreement but writing another, and because they [they courts] believe that treaties, along with old proclamations, must be updated to reflect modern systems of economics/government, and that the spirit of the treaty is the important point*.

Aboriginals (now) are the group that gains first usage rights of a wide number of natural resources. Oral Histories are considered to be a valid entry in a court of law, which normally would very much fall under hearsay, because that is how (some) Aboriginals keep history, and to block their histories would be a de facto bias.

I'm not really trying to prove a point here, just give a bit of information to those of you who don't know all that much about the Aboriginals in Canada, especially the legal side. What I'm trying to show is, it's complicated. In some ways we've been terribly backwards, in other ways we've been at the forefront. Be careful of blanket statements, on either side.

Notes:
1) I didn't get into the political / administrative side, which I believe this falls under, as did the residential schools, and many other failings & successes. Only because I don't know it that well, and in a comment about things being complicated . . .
2) My mother, among others, is an addictions counselor who was deployed to Sheshatshiu during their time of crisis. Whatever your opinions on the many Aboriginal issues, there's no denying that everybody has dropped the ball at times. It took her a while to get over that experience.

* A neat fact: the argument that was used was that of 'the honour of the Crown', which, pared down, is the assumption that the Crown always acts honourably, and thus documents must be interpreted in such a way as to be consistent with that assumption. Kind of a "wink wink, nudge nudge, you acted honourably thus here's what you meant to do"
posted by Lemurrhea at 4:26 PM on June 24, 2009 [7 favorites]


It would be interesting to note how many of the people commenting in this thread have any sort of contact with Canadian First Nations people or culture on a regular basis.

Totally acculturated, here. My granny would be the last family member that has any memory of her Blackfoot grandmother. I occasionally get this vague idea that I should go to Alberta, but I doubt that the people who still live on the Kainai reservation would give two shits about some honky looking for his "roots."
posted by Devils Rancher at 5:01 PM on June 24, 2009


it has been positively established that the Aboriginal people are close, if not completely, on the "same level" as the governments (provincial / federal) and that negotiations between them are more akin to a treaty between two sovereign peoples (very very roughly).

And this plays into the hands of the greedy bastards who are stealing from their peoples: there is not a whole lot of incentive, and probably not even the possibility, of the RCMP investigating and prosecuting those bastards.
posted by five fresh fish at 5:28 PM on June 24, 2009 [1 favorite]


davey_darling: "It would be interesting to note how many of the people commenting in this thread have any sort of contact with Canadian First Nations people or culture on a regular basis."

I've never had contact with Canadian First Nations but as an addictions counselor in northern Minnesota I did have quite a few Native Americans (Ojibwa) on my caseload. I studied with a member of AIM during one of my internships (she was a ranking member in their organization).

Alcoholism/drug addiction has decimated the Native American culture. It was some of the most soul-crushing work I've ever done. It was also some of most rewarding work I've ever done. One of my first patients was a Native American gentleman suffering from alcoholism and PTSD. He was an absolute mess. When he left after his 28 days, he was a different man. I still remember his name and I still remember our therapy sessions together. I don't know how he fared as it was 25 years ago but I do know he changed my life.
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 7:13 PM on June 24, 2009 [1 favorite]


It was some of the most soul-crushing work I've ever done. It was also some of most rewarding work I've ever done.

Please keep up the good work. I spend a fair amount of time in/around people working in the recovery field, and amongst fellow recovered addicts, so I see the hard and frustrating work, as well as the quality results, quite often. Thanks.
posted by Devils Rancher at 7:53 AM on June 25, 2009


The roots of those behaviors is simple human greed.

And what are the roots of the behaviors of people who pushed native populations off their lands so the resources could be extracted for colonists' use?

What are the roots of the behaviors of today's casino investors and water-rights lawyers?
posted by Miko at 8:50 PM on June 25, 2009


Where on earth are you going with that, Miko? Your assertion was that the rampant dishonesty of (some of) the chiefs is due to residential school abuses. I assert it is simply greed. You are now asserting, what, that their greed is excused by the actions of others? I fail to see your point.
posted by five fresh fish at 6:52 AM on June 26, 2009


Your assertion was that the rampant dishonesty of (some of) the chiefs is due to residential school abuses

Oh, hell no, I didn't assert that.

I fail to see your point.

My point is that "simple human greed" is a characteristic of humans. It's universal; one finds it in every population. Therefore, it's neither justification for the treatment of an entire population, or blame for an entire population. It's a point that goes nowhere. Some people are greedy. Some people are greedy in Native American communities. Some people are greedy in white-dominated communities, too. The notice that a universal tendency in humans toward greed exists doesn't provide a useful tool for adjudicating grievances.
posted by Miko at 7:29 PM on June 27, 2009


I don't understand where you're getting this "justification for the treatment of an entire population, or blame for an entire population" out of the fact that one of my local bands has an incredibly greedy and likely corrupt ex-Chief who made billions out of screwing his fellow Natives. I don't understand why you think the residential school system is to blame for his behaviour, especially as he never went to a residential school afaik. Indeed, I've never heard mention of a residential school for natives down in this part of Canada; seems to me they were mostly a northern phenomena.
posted by five fresh fish at 8:42 PM on June 27, 2009


fff, I haven't made any comments about the residential school system. Re-read, and figure out what it is you want to say. Whatever it is you're reacting to, I haven't said it. I am talking about a separate point.
posted by Miko at 8:53 PM on June 27, 2009


This is what I've been addressing. In that context, "neither justification for the treatment of an entire population, or blame for an entire population" makes no sense to me at all. Whatever your point is, it completely eludes me. Where was I justifying or blaming an entire population? I've been talking about a specific individual/family which has literally stolen traditional shared lands from the tribe, and used those lands to grossly enrich themselves and screw their neighbours.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:52 PM on June 27, 2009


My SO is a Canadian civil rights attorney and about half of her work involves "First Nations" (Indian is an epithet there). She said this:
Don't get me started. The whole situation is an absolute disgrace and I am ashamed of the Canadian government. The issue as far as I'm concerned is the living conditions on these reserves, which are deplorable and there is absolutely no excuse for it. The British and Canadian governments and the churches created this situation through 200 years of colonization, discrimination and marginalization that still exists and then the people are blamed for their own misfortune like they want to live in abject poverty in overcrowded and squalid conditions. It's absolutely horrible in my opinion that there is even a concern about whether hand sanitizer that could help to stop the spread of this flu should be given to people. That just shouldn't ever be something people are even talking about. What enrages me more than anything is when the Canadian government sits there like bystanders acting like they have no idea what to do or that they aren't to blame and don't have any power to change things. This issue can't be looked at in isolation but rather as a symptom of a much much bigger problem. I guess if people who aren't familiar with the situation will become aware of the living conditions on reserves and the MetaFilter story will expose the Canadian government's shameful treatment of Aboriginal people as a result, then at least something good will come out of it.
Data point:
She went north as sort of a circuit court thing. There was a 21 year old man with cerebral palsy. He had no wheelchair. They had no running water. When he had to pee or shit he had to drag himself to the outhouse. 400 miles north of Winnipeg.

Also it is worse for indigenous people in Canada than it is in the US. Hard to believe and fucks up your worldview, but true.
posted by vapidave at 1:26 PM on June 28, 2009 [3 favorites]


Whatever your point is, it completely eludes me. Where was I justifying or blaming an entire population?

I would say, here:

FFF: in the present what we see are corrupt and greedy band leaders pocketing millions of dollars while their fellow people go without. That isn't the fault of residential schools.

ME: Of course. But what are the roots of those behaviors? They're historical.

FFF: I disagree. The roots of those behaviours is simple human greed.


And then:

I hesitate to assign blame to the past, when in the present what we see are corrupt and greedy band leaders pocketing millions of dollars while their fellow people go without.

You may be speaking specifically of residential schools, but I've been thinking more about the larger movements which residential schools are only a small part of, movements which have created imbalances in power relationships and inequalities in access to resources today.

History has already taken place. Causes were set in motion long ago, and they have effects today. The fact that greedy people exist in all populations is insufficient to explain all the problems that exist now, since many of them are the result of more than 100 years of greed working in the opposite direction. So, the existence of greed is neither a reason for anyone to apologize, or a reason for anyone to blame populations experiencing problems. Greedy and corrupt people are everywhere. I agree with you that corruption is a problem. But corruption leading to the poverty and suffering of large groups of people united by their ethnic status is also a symptom, a symptom of power imbalances created by colonialism and perpetuated by inadequate contemporary policy, and one which is guaranteed to continue recurring until relations improve.

I'm not interested in doing my part to pick a fight, merely speaking up for the power of historical forces in determining present-day conditions. Human nature is reliably consistent, as you rightly point out, but government structures and codified policies have marked effects which cannot realistically be decoupled from their causes. It's not an apology to note that, just a recognition that there is a bigger story going on than 'a few corrupt people.'
posted by Miko at 4:03 PM on June 28, 2009


cut and paste error there - what I am responding to, specifically, is "hesitat[ing] to assign blame to the past;" I'm not concerned with the specific mechanisms, such as residential schools, but with the role of past policy in general as a historical force. In short, there is certainly some causation in the past for the difficulties that exist today.
posted by Miko at 4:06 PM on June 28, 2009


Historical inequities certainly explain a lot of things about the failures of many reservations. I do not think it adequately explains what has gone on in the Westbank First Nation.
posted by five fresh fish at 5:48 PM on June 28, 2009


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