The challenge of our time [First Nations Poverty] – Thunder Bay Chronicle Editorial (December 23, 2012)

The Thunder Bay Chronicle-Journal is the daily newspaper of Northwestern Ontario.

ANOTHER protest by First Nations has led to another round of accusations and counter-accusations. Chiefs and band members say government is ignoring treaty obligations and violating traditional lands. The federal government insists it is acting on a number of fronts to improve the lot of First Nations. Canadians from all walks of life share a variety of opinions, some of them valid while others repeat old misconceptions.

The Idle No More movement follows other native protests rooted in similar claims and counter-claims. Some of these protests have led to violent confrontations; others have simmered for years.

In general, the efforts of reasonable First Nation leaders has led reasonable Canadian and provincial government leaders to act on legitimate grievances and legislate improvements. And yet, conditions on many First Nations remain impoverished and relations with most governments remain strained.

This situation has endured for decades and is both a stain on Canada’s name and a sign that something isn’t working. In this modern country with a solid Charter of Rights and Freedoms, how can there not have been a solution to this by now? Either the First Nations are right and governments are failing them badly, or governments are doing their best but cannot have the conversation that First Nations want to hear.

Some First Nations are doing well. They are mostly close to Canadian cities and share in the economic proximity while creating much of their own wealth. Fort William First Nation is an example. Remote First Nations generally do badly. Without employment opportunities beyond band operations, poverty is epidemic.

Resource developments stand to improve the lot of nearby First Nations but, again, the conversation that is required to acquire First Nation permission to proceed is usually mired in delay and some measure of misunderstanding.

Canada can do better. Its governments — First Nation, national, provincial, municipal — are trying but they cannot seem to communicate with one another to the point of timely success. This is the challenge of our time and all we have to do is talk and listen and act accordingly.