May 22, 2015


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Capital Chronicles

Throwing stones not the answer

I had a story in the paper on the weekend about the challenges to Canada’s human rights' performance at the United Nations.

The challenges are coming from a number of groups, but among the main issues is the enormous gap in the standard of living between our First Nations population and the rest of Canada.

Not all other Canadians have a fabulous standard of living – certainly there are non-First Nations people who live in poverty.

But the fact of the matter is that if the conditions that existed on any of the First Nations in Canada existed in any non-First Nations community, the uproar would be enormous.

It would be front-page news if there was a community where mould had infected more than half the homes.

We would be ready to draw and quarter someone if the only way our kids could finish high school was if they travelled a thousand miles from home to a strange city.

If one in every two kids in say, Minnedosa, was addicted to sniffing gasoline, I can only imagine the public health resources that would be poured in to the community help.

These are the conditions on many of our First Nations – conditions we know exist and yet nothing has changed, it seems, for decades. Except maybe it’s getting worse.

But it always surprises me and makes my stomach hurt to see the kind of racism that is directed so blatantly towards First Nations. It seems every time I write a story that mentions poverty or addictions or some other social problem on First Nations, it opens the floodgates to a stream of emails from readers who are incensed that I might write about the problems faced by First Nations without blaming it on the First Nations.

One woman wrote to complain that the only reason they have so many problems is that they keep having so many babies and don’t breastfeed them. Another wrote to complain that there is just no accountability for the money government spends and therefore First Nations leaders should take the blame.

I am not an apologist. I know there is corruption among some First Nations governments. I know poor decisions are made by some First Nations people. I know there are times I get frustrated to the max when reaching the chief of a First Nation or the head of a First Nations government seems more difficult than it would be to get a one-on-one interview with Barack Obama.

I am also very aware that it is very difficult to track the money spent on First Nations – they have to file reports to the government but those reports aren’t available to the public unless the First Nation chooses to make them so.

There is a lot of work to be done by First Nations leaders themselves to improve the problems that run rampant among First Nations.

But I can’t help but remind people that corruption, lack of transparency, poor accountability, cover ups, misspending, theft, bad parenting, etc., are not exactly absent from the rest of Canada. These are not unique to First Nations.

If Canadians want to really be seen as the world’s leaders on compassion and integrity we have to start by not throwing any more stones.

We all live in glass houses.

And what’s that other saying? You’re only as strong as your weakest link? Canada is linked to First Nations --  it is a link we should cherish and work at improving. It's a link we need to keep our economy strong and our country ticking.

We're not going to make that link any stronger by throwing stones at it.

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