Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Attawapiskat Outrage

It is simply inexcusable that people should have to live in third world conditions in Canada.    Yet that is how people in many First Nations (FN) communities across Canada do live.    And it gotten so bad in Attawapiskat FN, Ontario -- 694 km (432 miles) northeast of Thunder Bay, and which can only be reached by plane from places such as Timmins and Kapuskasing as well as Ottawa -- a reservation on about the same latitude as Red Deer, Alberta is so bad that even the Red Cross doesn't know what to do and has asked for help from other NGOs.

Bad enough that everything has to be shipped in which increases costs.  (The Northern residents deduction, which reduces taxable income by about $3000 per person plus eligible travel costs, doesn't begin to cover the gap between what we pay for food in the South and those in the Great White North do.)  Bad enough there is a huge unemployment rate there and despair to the level that nearly 40% of youth choose to end their own lives.    The notion that any home could be uninsulated or could have no running potable water is outrageous and disgusting.

How can this be tolerated in a country of plenty, especially in a part of Ontario that is within a new "Northern ring of fire" with vast supplies of diamonds (clean, non-conflict diamonds), nickel, copper, palladium, platinum and possibly new sources of gold, silver and cobalt?   As the original owners of the land, Aboriginals are entitled to at least a fair share of the royalties.   Whatever the rate is, a fairer share would be a huge first step in and of itself to lifting people up there out of despair.

(The rate of the royalties which is as much as joke to begin with, isn't as bad as the fact that the royalties are going into general revenues rather than into a real sovereign wealth fund to compete with those in Norway and Mainland China, and the fact such a fund should continue to have inflows as long as the mines and forests haven't been totally exhausted -- but I digress, that's for an upcoming post.)

Instead, Pointy Head McGuinty creates "Five Year Plans" for Northern Ontario (yes, 5YPs, like Eva Perón did for Argentina, no wonder they still think she's a goddess -- as did Mao for Red China and Stalin for the USSR), and the feds shirk their responsibilities also especially with education.   Still no plans for a permanent school rather than one in a moulding portable structure.   Oh sure, they can say they have spent $80 million in the town over the last few years.    If that's the case why is the community still $16 million in debt?    If mining encampments can be built up rapidly and with much more humane living conditions a relative stone's throw away, then what is the problem?

And not to forget the media's role in their shirking of responsibility as well:   The community like so many "up north" only has repeaters, or translators, of big city TV stations which rarely if ever cover issues of import to the First Nations, focusing only on events in the larger and more accessible towns.    And the networks wanted to put these communities into everlasting darkness with the transition to digital earlier this year -- but were ordered by the regulators to give the "little people" a reprieve.   I have to admit I'm surprised that Attawapiskat has high speed internet -- many other FNs still have only 56k dial up.

It's not just Attawapiskat.   This is just the tip of the iceberg.    There are reserves here in the South that are pretty bad -- Six Nations just south of Hamilton is one example -- but that is nowhere compared to this monstrosity.   Even the still non-gentrified sections of South Central LA or Harlem, Manhattan are better than this.  Seriously.

And I think this is the first true test of how much of a "compassionate conservative" Stephen Harper thinks that he is.   Words are trite.   Actions, however constituted, are the real truth.


The Rat said...

A question for you. Do you know if these families without homes had homes before? I ask because they obviously have been living there all their lives but only now has it become an emergency. What has changed?

BlastFurnace said...

My understanding is that when there was a huge sewage backup about 2½ years ago, the DeBoers mining company "loaned" two super portables, designed to hold about maybe two dozen people between them. A hundred or more are living in them at present, they're not hooked up correctly, but no running water or toilets, and there is mould which makes it worse. There's a lot of blame to go around on this one, but that backup may have been the trigger.