Thursday, April 08, 2010
More Evidence That Things Need to Change
Yet an increasing number of thinkers have begun to urge a new approach to the issue -- and it's one that the proponents of the current approach will almost certainly despise.
Yet the clear evidence that changes are desperately needed continues to mount. Not only is there the spectre of lingering and grinding aboriginal poverty, but more and more aboriginal Canadians are moving off-reserve and into cities. It's only natural that they would do this, as that is where most of the opportunities for them seem to lay.
“The fastest growing population is the young aboriginal population and we need those young people to be educated and in the workforce,” says Calvin Helin. “Not for reasons of a moral imperative, but for the very prosperity and competitiveness of Canada as a nation.”
This isn't a bad thing or a good thing, unless one depends upon the views of any particular paradigm on aboriginal affairs. Those who would prefer to see strong on-reserve communities must be concerned about this development. Those who prefer to see aboriginals assimilate likely welcome it.
If those who wish to see strong on-reserve cultural communities wish to see those communities thrive they will need a way to provide opportunities to youths who decide to stay on-reserve. But the currently dominant model for aboriginal affairs in Canada -- simply pumping more and more funds into reserves -- has clearly failed to provide such opportunities.
A change is urgently needed.
A key may be found in Tom Flanagan's theories. According to Flanagan, the key to aleviating aboriginal poverty is to allow aboriginal bands to make use of the resources they already have.
"Canada's first nations are potentially wealthy landlords, with land reserves totalling nearly three million hectares," Flanagan recently wrote in the Globe and Mail. "Dozens of reserves are near major cities such as Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary and Montreal, as well as rapidly growing smaller towns such as Kamloops, Kelowna and Courtenay-Comox. This land base represents an economic asset that could make a major contribution to raising first nations' standard of living."
Flanagan notes that passing legislation allowing aboriginal bands to assume property rights over their land on a voluntary basis would repair key inadequacies in the current state of aboriginal property rights.
Flanagan also argues that it would settle the debate over the best course for aboriginal Canadians.
"The political left in Canada believes in aboriginal self-government, while the political right emphasizes the integration of native peoples into the mainstream," Flanagan writes. "In this case, left and right can come together: First nations will be able to get underlying title to their land, an important part of self-government; and they will also find it easier to adopt individual property rights for their landholdings, which will facilitate their participation in the Canadian economy."
This, of course, will not be a panacea for aboriginal poverty. Decades of government investment in fighting poverty will remain necessary, but at least the prospect of self-spurred economic development on Canadian aboriginal reserves will provide some light at the end of the tunnel.
In the meantime, there are some other key reforms that will be necessary.
The movement of aboriginal youths into cities has left many of them feeling unrepresented, according to a recent poll.
Off-reserve aboriginals are supposed to be represented by the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples. Yet 40% of off-reserve aboriginals couldn't identify the organization as representing them.
Helin suggests that aboriginals don't recognize CAP as their representation because they get no opportunity to elect them.
“There’s a lot of resentment that there isn’t any representation, and I think that clearly came out in the study,” he says. “Once there is equal representation, and everybody has the chance to elect the national chief of the AFN, for example, people I think will have a much greater sense of ownership.”
Democratic reform is the other side of aboriginal self-government that aboriginal bands will need to address. Those who insist the hereditary nature of political leadership is an aboriginal tradition that must be preserved will need to recognize that this decision will ultimately be up to aboriginals, but should be up to all aboriginals -- not just their chiefs.
One thing is certain: the status quo on aboriginal affairs doesn't work, and there is no reason to expect that will change any time soon.
The evidence for the need for change is apparent: now all we need is for our political leaders -- both aboriginal and non-aboriginal -- to recognize it.