The Dryden Observer

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It’s not my place to say…

Chris Marchand

Chris Marchand served as editor of the Dryden Observer from August 2009 to April 2018.

It has been fascinating to watch how the Attiwapiskat housing issue has played out over the past several weeks. The national media walked a tight-rope, unsure of who to believe — the federal government accused of neglect, or the First Nation, accused of the mismanagement of millions of dollars.

The comment sections of national online news stories continued the debate in less-restrained tones. It got pretty ugly out there.

While you might not call it a constructive conversation, it was something more than we’ve seen for a long time. A genuine expression of frustration on all sides as to the way Canada’s relationship with its Aboriginal residents has evolved.

National Chief for the Assembly of First Nations, Shawn Atleo, is absolutely right when he says the time is now for the federal government to reboot its relationship with its Aboriginal people.

Here at ground zero in the Northwest, we’re saying, “Y’think?”

Up until now, Canada has not made a suitable effort to form a sustainable strategy to meet the basic needs of those in remote communities.

It’s been easier to compartmentalize the problem, wall it off from meaningful scrutiny behind an effective barrier of a couple hundred kilometres of rocks and trees.

Beyond the sheer inaccessibility of these remote places, we have even greater self-imposed barriers to contend with.

The very fact that I’ve re-written this paragraph 28 times in a futile attempt to avoid being called an uninformed racist by the first NDP Member of Parliament who reads this on the Internet is testament to the political and press culture that has emerged around native affairs.

That culture is based on navigating the emotional wreckage of a colonial past and the generally accepted idea that we’ve done quite enough meddling in the destiny of Canada’s native people.

The problem facing everyday Canadians in processing situations like Attiwapiskat is in how to help play a positive role in the future without feeling like we’re being flipped the bird while tax dollars are seemingly poured into a black hole.

Right now, to publicly say anything remotely critical of First Nations self-government from outside the Aboriginal perspective, is not the place of non-Aboriginals.

That might be changing with Harper’s push for ‘accountability’ — a word that seems to be gaining traction among those frustrated with a lack of answers from First Nations leadership.

Personally, after a decade-long barrage of press releases rank with feints, posturing, subtext, mixed messages and theatrical stunts crafted to appeal to my profession’s desire to embarrass and shame government, I am wary and weary of First Nations playing ineffective political and ego games with governments and mining companies when some reserve schools are virtually empty and unacceptably large percentages of remote community residents are addicted to narcotics.

These are problems that place the very survival of remote communities at stake.

I would hope my leaders would have different priorities than the ones I see being acted on, but that’s not my place to say.

And if that is the long-term strategy of the Canadian government — to let these communities slowly collapse under the weight of their own problems and let the survivors of these often unbearable environments trickle out to urban Canada — well, that’s not a very good plan.

Chris Marchand


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