Sunday, January 13, 2013

The Misconception of "The Scandals of Chief Theresa Spence and Attawapiskat"

In response to an email from my mom, with a link to Canadian pundit Ezra Levant's scathing criticism of how our aboriginals 'waste' the tax dollars we generously 'donate' to them.  Mr. Levant simply doesn't 'get' the real problem.  All he's doing is stirring up a feeling of self-righteousness due to our 'normal-cultural filters'.  He's 'incensed'.  So am I, but for the opposite reasons.  Here's the video:

Well, Mom, as you’ll often hear me say, what the rest of us, in our ‘new normal’ comfort will self-righteously feel (“DISGUSTING!” was in the email subject line), shaking our heads in dismay, is not really what is at the core of the issue.  This is not me being a ‘bleeding heart liberal’, it is me being a ‘social scientist’, understanding the underlying human motivations, psychology and ‘strategic’ reasons for why things happen amongst human beings.
What the aboriginals (NOT ‘Indians’, as this white man keeps using, a label the white man gave them) are protesting is their overall condition.  Like the former slaves in America, the majority of whom are trapped in a lifelong, centuries-in-the-making, cycle of poverty that it is nearly impossible to break free from (as is equally the case with the majority of poor of any race/culture), the aboriginals are trapped.  Trapped, in large part by the judgmental stance both sides take towards each other (as our different human ‘tribes’ always tend to -- “SHOCKING!” was my mom's response).

We hand them tons of cash in return for having taken their land and resources. They dutifully spend this money. We hand it out to the Chiefs as ‘wages’ and they tend to be very generous with each other, as sharing for the common good is part of their culture (‘ownership’ is understood to be communal, not individual).  Yet the money just evaporates.  It gets spent, as it is seen as 'communal,' on group-participation things like goose hunts and Zamboni machines and 'gifts' (wealth distribution).  ‘Between the cracks’ it goes to alcohol and treatment, because building a big homestead for the Chief alone isn’t seen as acceptable or appropriate (the leadership’s personal travel expenses are a more nebulous concept for them).  

These tribes aren't 'real estate moguls' as Mr. Levant perceives them to be, or Casino-corporations -- they are muddled and face a critical internal disconnect amongst their people, striving to maintain an ancient culture and way of life that is crippled by the system we've imposed upon them.  We cannot criticize them with OUR 'normal filters' on.

So what this female Chief is really protesting for, and the reason she wants to talk to the white man’s Chief, Harper, is that they have no agenda.  THAT'S THE PROBLEM!  Her constituents pressure her leadership for a better solution, and their leaders are trapped in the situation we set up for them, a system that is fundamentally foreign to them and that they cannot simply accept and adjust to and have the majority of their kids suddenly do well in well-run schools populated by college-educated teachers from their tribe.  She MUST DO SOMETHING!  Yet what?  So she starves herself and demands a pow-wow without knowing exactly why, just that non-monetary help/guidance/change is desperately needed.

The education we provide them with, versus in a the way their culture can accept with enthusiasm, does not ‘fit’.  It’s a square peg in a round hole.   We can’t say we’ve set up a system that allows them to preserve their ancient way of life, when it really does not (as they used to roam their vast regions unimpeded by white man’s ‘property rights’), and at the same time say: “If your old ways are no longer working, just adapt to ours, force your kids to do well in school, go to university and acquire wealth and status the way we do!”

Hundreds of years after we “conquered” them, they are in exactly the same spot, stuck on reservations, handed the white man’s money as ‘compensation’, expected to NOT adapt to the white man’s ways, but to maintain an extinct way of life.  They are prevented, with the advent of technology and the restriction of reservation boundaries, from actually fully living off the land WITHOUT the steady supply of alcohol that is crippling to their highly addictive systems (making alcohol amongst their nomadic way of life used to be a sporadic and short-termed endeavor).

And a steady supply of alcohol tends to cripple them mentally as their situation cripples them emotionally.  Emotionally (motivationally) they are a lost people, without the ability to migrate as they once did, stuck in permanent settlements, no longer motivated by seasonal starvation to plan ahead and ‘get busy’, totally robbed of a human tribe’s deep-seated need to believe that they are the proud, ‘chosen people’.  Every day they wake up to a situation the rest of us imposed upon them that makes it abundantly clear they are the lesser, NOT-special people.

At the end of the day, they are a broken people who are highly susceptible to the brain damage that alcohol does to young human brains.  I drove behind the Holt Renfrew building at Bay and Bloor the other day, only to get surprised by passing a small group of aboriginal kids huddled in a doorway recess in the sub-zero temperatures, students of one of our off-reservation “residential schools,” all smoking cigarettes and pot and sharing a bottle of cheap vodka.  They all appeared to be under 16, and were far from the familiarity and comfort of home.

These children start sharing alcohol before they become teens.  Think about that culture-wide brain cell destruction and you start to understand why the adults, even the ones in AA, cannot figure out great solutions to their people’s dilemma.

Yes, they can ‘get back at us’ by running casinos to take our money (and our Chief is working hard to take that cash flow from them by opening government-owned casinos closer to the white man’s cities) to encourage a white man’s addiction to the thrill of gambling.  They can further ‘thumb their noses’ at our laws and vulnerabilities (drug addictions) by trading (NOTE: ‘trade’, it is what their culture does), through the reserve that straddles the US-Canadian border on the St. Lawrence river in US hand guns and assault rifles, drugs and illegal cigarettes, all of which get fed into gangs populated, sometimes in large part, by descendants of former slaves from the West Indies and the US in our large cities), but all of that is just an IV drip in the ‘carcass of their former, highly independent, self-reliant, nomadic culture’.

The real solution, as is the case with the former slave cultures, is radical and can only come from a broad, government-supported and planned effort to start with the very, very young members of our Canadian citizenry living in their societies and work WITHIN their communities and cultures to effect fundamental, grass-roots change.  The leaders of that change within their communities are currently very few, but they do exist, and if rewards and checks and balances are put in place, and failure and adjustment and perseverance are built-in to the program, over decades change WILL happen, but it must take place from within, not in ‘residential schools’ where home-sickness and depression naturally set-in immediately.

No, the change will not happen overnight the way our culture demands, but over time, with mentors and ambassadors leading the change very gradually from within, in every new set of 10 year olds, the transformation will begin to happen.  But it can only begin with our understanding and our acceptance of differences and our determination to welcome this ancient group into a truly integrated new Canada.

What is vitally necessary, however, is that isolation, through reservations and ‘residential schools’, and the wrong-headed, IMPOSSIBLE belief/conviction that their ancient aboriginal way of life can continue largely unchanged in today’s modern world be understood and accepted.  It cannot, sadly.  REALLY NOT!

Canada’s aboriginals, sadly, got defeated.  There is no ‘going back,’ per se, there is only the possibility to maintain their proud culture as strongly as the French-Canadians do, as strongly as ALL our immigrant cultures do through their associations and places of worship and language schools, and move on into our common, collective human future (as messy as it sometimes is).

End of rant. ;-)
 Ooo!  Had to add this as THIS original North American puts it so well and so simply:



  1. Email comment from a retired friend of my mother:

    I had seen various versions of this (the Sun coverage), including the statistics. Sun media, although pretty rough around the edges, is way out ahead of the mainstream media on aboriginal issues. I really don’t understand why CBC, CTV, Global, the Globe and Mail, the Star and others are not presenting a balanced picture. I also got a summary of what the Harper government has done for the natives over the last 6 years. Major progress including resolving approx. 800 of the 900+ land claims that were outstanding. The amount of money that is transferred to aboriginal control exceeds $6 billion a year. THAT has not appeared anywhere. And now a federal court has ruled that anyone with a hint of “native” blood should have the same rights as treaty aboriginals. That’s approximately 600,000 more that could become a burden on working Canadians.

    I am a bit fed up, frankly. The time has long passed that these people should have been weaned off the public purse and integrated into society, their dubious culture and all. Every time they do this, Canada gets an undeserved black eye internationally from all the Human Rights organizations. One would think that we were Israel and they were Palestinians. Frankly, the Palestinians are a “nation”. The diverse native tribes are definitely not.

    1. Thanks for your perspective, Ken!

      I believe that the majority of Canadians agree, but again, the real challenge in ‘weaning them off the public purse’ is complex due to the reasons I outlined. Cutting off the funding without FORCING them to integrate (at this point it has become a case of "Canadians' excessive 'political correctness' be damned" -- the aboriginals THEMSELVES are begging for a better solution) and begin to accept a modern non-native culture of work=reward must begin with the babies, and especially (to my mother’s point) with the embryos in the wombs of mothers addicted to alcohol and tobacco.

      The rewards and check/balance systems must be relevant to them, otherwise there will be no progress and fetal alcohol/tobacco syndromes will continue to debilitate their brains and their ability to compete in our blended society, while an upbringing without much education or supervision and a band of drunks as role models is not going to lead to better integration.

      Years ago adoption was seen as the radical solution, now we’ve come to understand ‘the primal wound’ and that, while children WITHOUT fetal alcohol syndrome who are transplanted into a developed world culture immediately adapt and adopt the values of their new social milieu, there is, nevertheless, a fundamental and crucial tear in their brains and emotional/psychological base of development. So simply removing these kids from their biological moms is ‘fraught’ solution that is not a panacea, the solution needs to start inside their society, at home, and must be future generations focused as the present ones are what they are.



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