Help First Nations grow up

Posted on January 28, 2013
Filed Under Commentary, Economic & Political Philosophy, History & Culture, Metepenagiag | Leave a Comment

More and more information about the attempted genocide of First Nations by the residential school system is coming to light even if most people aren’t paying attention. In retrospect, it seems insane that society believed it had a right to and could do good by ripping children from their families and punishing the Indian out of them. Among the horrors committed by organized religions, telling children their parents and grand parents were savages and attempting to bully and abuse these children into the religion that condemned their families was a textbook example of crime against humanity. Add to that the physical and sexual abuse of these child prisoners and we have a recipe for destroying people that would have made Hitler proud.

Many of the products of that system live their hells on the streets of our cities now. The children of children with mangled familial, tribal and cultural roots are the poverty stricken, alcoholic, drug addicted, sex trade working, penal system alumni now bringing children into the world. Many of these are children, already damaged in the womb, who do not know who their fathers or grand parents are and don’t have the extended families so valuable to healthy child development. They come into a world where we have scarcely taken notice when their mothers were used and murdered.

What a daunting task it will be to rebuild human self respect, respect and affection for others, pride and ambition and end this program of human devastation.

Our welfare approach to First Nations residents on reserves are almost as destructive. How can we expect informed, educated, democratic citizens to grow in a system where treats and penalties are handed down from the federal government, guided by paternalistic, self-interested national councils of chiefs, to local band councils?

The system is rotten from the top down. No system is immune to Lord Acton’s truism that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. In the system that governs First Nations, local coalitions, usually family based, are bought and paid for with money that comes down from above.

I am not suggesting that non-native society has any right to abandon its moral and legal responsible to pay for the land and rights-of-use we purchased with treaties. We did not conquer and steal First Nations land. We bought it. We lied and cheated and dishonoured our agreements. We forgot to cheat them out of a few things like fishing, trapping and hunting rights but we did write down our agreements. Those agreements do not expire any more than your deed to your house does.

The challenge is how to transfer our lease payments.

One of the biggest problems with a paternalistic, as opposed to a democratic, system is that it is never clear what are individual rights and what are collective rights.

Is the right to fish an individual right each First Nations person can exercise or is it a collective right the band council can negotiate away for money and, or, a collective fishery? When the band, rather than a family or individual, owns the house and lot, how long before the occupants lose any sense of equity in or responsibility for it?

It is not really so long ago that non-native society treated women as lesser citizens than men. Men made all the decisions about their government, property, marital status and bodies.

Over time, women fought for and achieved, or made gains toward, their political, financial, and sexual independence. Now four of Canada’s premiers are women and more women are reaching the top in business.

Can anyone believe there can be a healthy, educated, engaged, responsible, ambitious, hopeful First Nations society without individual empowerment and responsibility?

As time goes on, and government accrues more and more power over non-native society, we are seeing signs of some of the problems afflicting First Nations.

When non-local governments collect taxes and make decisions about the location of schools and hospitals, we lose sight of the relationship between what we get and what we pay for. We all demand lower taxes and more local services, buildings and entitlements.

A First Nations friend of mine says that a good first step toward an engaged citizenry would be if each and every First Nations citizen paid a dollar to finance an Assembly of First Nations they would own rather than one financed by the federal government. That would make them take an interest in how the Assembly spent their money and what they did.

Noah Augustine, a tragic First Nations figure, understood this. He could talk the talk as well as any First Nations chief I ever met. Unfortunately, he could not walk the walk. His demons and the conflict between his skill at the game and his realization of what needed to be done destroyed him and some of the  people around him.

It will be extremely difficult and will take quite a long time to build a new, healthy, First Nations citizenry and governance.

We must no longer delude ourselves that it can begin without a dedicated and focussed determination to empower individuals and hand over to them power and accountability. It is time to stop treating them like children and allow them to grow up.

As with women, their rights are not ours to give. They are theirs to take.

Using their own money to finance their own leaders would seem to be a productive first, baby, step. DAC


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