August 13, 2005


Premiers vow to end aboriginal poverty (Judy Monchuk, Canadian Press, August 11th, 2005)

Canada's premiers agreed Tuesday to support a 10-year plan that aims to eliminate aboriginal poverty and right historic wrongs.

"The gap that exists between aboriginal Canadians, First Nations and the general public is something we should all be ashamed of," B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell said Tuesday after the premiers met with aboriginal leaders. Campbell, who will help draft the agenda for a first ministers meeting on native issues in the fall, said the changes will not come overnight.

"That plan should be created by the aboriginal leadership to lay out a plan for us that we can commit to and act on," he said. "The federal government will have to be part of that solution as provinces are already."

Native leaders wanted the leaders of the provinces and territories to support the ambitious plan, which was presented to Ottawa in June. It will address health care, housing, economic development and forging a new relationship between Canada's aboriginal peoples and the different levels of government. [...]

Living conditions in Canada's aboriginal communities ranked 63rd in a recent United Nations report, while Canada overall ranked third.

It is folly to believe this will make any big difference, but perhaps that isn’t the point. Since the earliest colonists, every generation of North Americans has confronted the embarrassing presence of aboriginal peoples and sought to “solve” their plight and reconcile the culturally irreconcilable. Just about everything–-genocide, banishment, conversion, reservations, land-claims, modern education, cradle to grave security, cultural promotion and celebration, apology and contrition, affirmative action, resource-sharing, self-government and oodles and oodles of cash–-has been tried, and still a large majority live amidst a defiant poverty and social pathology. Even those communities that win the lottery through resources or gambling succumb with depressing frequency to crime and corruption.

In 2005, no serious person can believe social progress and personal advancement are possible without an ethic of optimism, individual self-reliance and personal responsibility for one’s fate and one’s family. The same is true of any community serious about pulling itself out of alcoholism, family dysfunction, violence and despair. That these impulses are not part of traditional aboriginal world views is only part of the problem–-they’re not prominent in Far Eastern traditions either. What is mind-boggling is the persistent near-unanimity of native peoples in rejecting, at least publically, any acknowledgment of responsibility for improving their lot or moving beyond the painful history of long ago. It is almost as if, rather than seeking a better material life, they share a divine mission to stand as a permanent stark warning of the injustices we risk perpetrating by succumbing to an aggressive and unquestioned conviction of the universal superiority of our beliefs and ways. Just about everything that is glorious in Western civilization appears to have wrecked havoc among indigenous peoples.

And so, decade after decade, we try afresh and tell ourselves that a new policy, a new initiative and (always) more money will square the circle. It would be nice if it did, but surely the real reason we do so is that we need confusing doubt and a fair dose of historical guilt to keep us from succumbing to the impatient contempt we struggle to contain, lest it unleash the barbaric within us anew and result in wrongs and horrors that imperil our souls.

Posted by Peter Burnet at August 13, 2005 9:33 AM

He left out "weak defense," too. You're slippin' there OJ.

Posted by: Mike Morley at August 13, 2005 1:57 PM

Well said, Peter. It is time for the aboriginals to face the judgment of history and accept it. We do them no favors by keeping the flame of their resentments burning.

Posted by: Robert Duquette at August 13, 2005 2:31 PM


That's been tried too. You'd need a very strong stomach and a few friends because they'd fight you tooth and nail to a man and you'd have to renounce all those treaties. I nominate you to tell them it's nothing personal, just the judgment of history.

Posted by: Peter B at August 13, 2005 4:07 PM

In the US, I thought poverty on reservatons stemmed from the fact that their economies don't work that well. They'd be fine if they wanted to live simple lives, but they want houses and cars and cable tv and all that which they can't get when they're separated from naturally evolving communities.

But I wouldn't know...

Posted by: RC at August 13, 2005 7:25 PM

Does anyone imagine that stone age man had lived in anything elae than what we would now consider poverty?

Posted by: Lou Gots at August 13, 2005 7:55 PM

illions have been transferred to Canadian natives, but it is unaccountable for. And the feds don't care to investigate - it would paint them as intolerant, don't you know.

Of course. the chiefs are living verrrrry well! It's just the band members who live in squalor.

Posted by: obc at August 13, 2005 10:19 PM

Wasn't the height of the native population in B.C. around 80,000? Not bad for passive people living in the stone age but hard to compete with modern civilization.

I know lots of "first nations" who have kicked the stone age hangover by becoming Christians. These folks also prove the lie that people don't want their poverty; there are many ways to get out, but only a few choose that path.

One thing I have noticed, though: the native girls around town are getting a lot thinner and more attractive. I have no explanation for it but I'm not complaining.

Posted by: Randall Voth at August 14, 2005 1:02 AM

Peter Burnet:

If you believe thusly about Native Americans, then from whence comes your impulse to attempt to defend Arab cultures from charges of extreme dysfunction ?

Posted by: Michael Herdegen at August 15, 2005 3:17 AM


I confess to having a few misgivings about the Palis on this score, but the Palis are not all of Arabia and the Arabs are not all of Islam. You have appropriated the concept of social pathology to fit your own package of outrages-from-afar (it must drive you crazy that so few Muslim women see their oppression as you do), but yours are more political than social. Obviously on family cohesion, out-of-wedlock births, substance abuse, AIDS, civic violence, social order, education and religious faith and even the mercantile instinct, the Muslim world can hardly be described as socially pathological. You wouldn't fear and hate them so much if it were. Try Western-inspired, progressive, secular Sub-Sahara Africa instead.

Posted by: Peter B at August 15, 2005 9:01 AM