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Christopher Alcantara is assistant professor in the Department of Political Science at Wilfrid Laurier University. His latest book, Negotiating the Deal: Comprehensive Land Claims Agreements in Canada, is forthcoming from University of Toronto Press.
“Lost in this debate is the larger question of whether
remote indigenous communities are viable in the first
place and if they are not, whether the federal and
provincial governments should support them. Unless
there is a significant natural resource being
developed, many remote locations offer few economic
opportunities to make a decent wage and standard of
living.” (Christopher Alcantara)
About a month ago, a state of emergency was declared for the Attawapiskat First Nation, approximately 500 kilometres north of Timmins. The reason was the deplorable living conditions on the reserve. Many of the houses, for instance, lack proper insulation, reliable heating, running water and sewage disposal.
Unfortunately, the plight of Attawapiskat residents is not an isolated or unique event. Many reserves across Canada face a similar situation, with most commentators arguing that more money needs to be spent on improving living conditions on these reserves.
Lost in this debate is the larger question of whether remote indigenous communities are viable in the first place and if they are not, whether the federal and provincial governments should support them.
From a strictly economic perspective, the answer is probably no.
Unless there is a significant natural resource being developed, many remote locations offer few economic opportunities to make a decent wage and standard of living.
As well, the costs of living in these locations are frequently high, since the goods and services that many Canadians enjoy conveniently and cheaply in the south or in urban areas must be transported long distances at great expense.
From a moral and legal perspective, however, the answer is probably yes. The Crown, on behalf of all Canadian citizens, signed treaties with indigenous peoples in Canada, thus creating a special constitutional and fiduciary relationship between aboriginal peoples and the Canadian state.
This means we have a duty as Canadians to respect the right of indigenous peoples to self-determination, which includes supporting the decision of aboriginals to live in remote communities, whatever their reasons for doing so.
As well, subsidizing remote indigenous communities has moral force because indigenous peoples and their lands have long fuelled the Canadian economy. So paying for the right of indigenous peoples to live in remote communities would be one small way of recognizing this fact.
For the rest of this article, please go to the Toronto Star website: http://www.thestar.com/opinion/editorialopinion/article/1095800–choices-for-first-nations