Brent Wesley is news director for Wawatay News in Sioux Lookout, which includes Attawapiskat First Nation in its coverage area.
Lazy. Incompetent. Dead weight. Basically, a burden on the taxpayers. Harsh descriptives for anyone to swallow, yet it’s par for the course for First Nations in this country. Especially when a major issue hits mainstream news like the state of emergency in Attawapiskat First Nation over inadequate housing.
The James Bay community in Northern Ontario made the declaration in late October, yet people in the community have lived in makeshift houses since 2009. Some residents are facing the onslaught of a third winter without proper homes. And in Ontario’s Far North, winter is harsh and unforgiving, It’s a situation that can tug at the heart strings of most people. But when Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Duncan exercised his ministerial right to put the community under third-party management, suddenly the spotlight was on band finances. Where has the money gone?
Others have done a good job of breaking down the numbers, so I won’t dwell on it. Rather, as a First Nation person, the public backlash has weighed heavy. Instead of compassion, First Nations were suddenly generalized and told we don’t know how to fend for ourselves. Funny, considering I have an education, have a job, own a home and I’m raising a family. But wait, “you’re okay, I like you. It’s those other Indians I don’t like.” Words I have actually heard before.
I can’t imagine the toll the backlash has taken on the people of Attawapiskat. But sometimes the weight of the outside world isn’t very apparent in the day-to-day lives of people living in remote isolated communities. Life is a struggle to survive. Poverty. Social and health issues. Expensive food. Lack of potable water. The list goes on. Yet, the onslaught of voices can penetrate the thickest barrier. Suddenly, everyone is an expert and knows what’s best. And more often than not, that advice tends to focus on the usual uninformed, misguided diatribes of “get a job” or “take care of yourselves and stop depending on taxpayer money.” And even the most well-intentioned advice can be unwarranted.
Why does it bother me? Because it’s the same old attitude that has brought on the problems that exist and fester in every corner of Indian country. Father knows best. And you best heed his advice. Paternalistic attitudes and policies that have done more harm than good.
For the rest of this article, please go to the Toronto Star website: http://www.thestar.com/opinion/editorialopinion/article/1101443–depressing-rerun-for-anti-native-stereotypes