Game of demand and duck


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OTTAWA -- I dislike using big words, but in discussing aboriginal and non-aboriginal political relations, one seems necessary: interminable or, as one dictionary says, wearisomely protracted.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 12/04/2010 (4677 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

OTTAWA — I dislike using big words, but in discussing aboriginal and non-aboriginal political relations, one seems necessary: interminable or, as one dictionary says, wearisomely protracted.

For what seems like forever, aboriginal and non-aboriginal politicians have railed at one another, but little seems to get done. Talking to people here, I get the impression that relations are at a low, particularly on money.

The politicians are playing a determined game of demand and duck. Aboriginal leaders demand and the federal government ducks. The federal government demands and the aboriginal leaders duck.

This game played by scolds is a far cry from the situation in our cities, which are bursting with new life, both good and ill.

On the bad side, aboriginal street gangs are still a problem, mainly because they provide the help and identity some families don’t. Tuberculosis ravages Manitoba’s First Nations; aboriginal women, who are forced into being street workers, go missing, never to be seen again. Aboriginal women march. Newspapers write long articles. Nothing much happens.

But in our cities this is not the big aboriginal story: Aboriginal business people and professionals are making tremendous strides in developing themselves and their community.

New aboriginal groups have formed in Winnipeg to help with housing, education and skills development, mental and physical issues, communications and the teaching of aboriginal history.

At the same time, aboriginal businesses are breaking records. One business has even bought an executive jet to rent to others. And another, Neechi Foods Co-op, is planning a $5-million redevelopment on Winnipeg’s downtown Main Street. The University of Winnipeg’s Innovative Learning Centre has had good success preparing aboriginal youth for higher education.

About half of Canada’s 1.2 million aboriginals live in cities. An Urban Aboriginal Peoples Study, done by the Environics Institute and released last week, shows 94 per cent are either very happy or somewhat happy. They want the good life most Canadians want. But they are also happy they can access aboriginal services or cultural programs.

Unhappily, our politicians haven’t been able to achieve the same feelings of achievement and progress.

In this year’s federal budget, Ottawa allotted $199 million for residential school survivor programs. But this money will not be administered by the Aboriginal Healing Foundation, already set up, but by Health Canada.

“Not only is this a horrendous waste of money and time,” says Grand Chief Ron Evans, “but it puts our healing programs into the hands of the federal government, which erected the federal residential schools in the first place.”

The federal government over the last several years has assumed full or partial control of about a third of Manitoba’s First Nations, the highest rate of oversight of reserves in Canada.

Many of the issues separating Ottawa and the First Nations involve money. Indian and Northern Affairs Minister Chuck Strahl, when he was with the Canadian Alliance, said we “are aggressively pressuring the government to implement accountability measures so that grassroots aboriginals get the services they need.”

He added: “Natives live in Third World poverty while their chiefs and councils — and an industry of lawyers and consultants surrounding native affairs — live in regal splendour.”

Strahl’s description of the situation is flamboyant. But he is right to worry about accountability, a concern he shares with some aboriginals. So why doesn’t he, in good faith, sit down with some aboriginal leaders and improve the governance system? It’s obvious that, until that is resolved, Ottawa is going to be reluctant to fund some aboriginal programs.

The more aboriginal affairs seem to be getting nowhere, the more ticked off many non-aboriginals will become and they’ll lose interest in aboriginal problems. That would be a shame, because, in part, Ottawa reacts to aboriginal problems because non-aboriginals say it should.

But perhaps that’s Ottawa’s strategy: Push away aboriginal problems until the interminable nature of the process turns off many non-aboriginals and even some aboriginals.

Tom Ford is managing editor of The Issues Network

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