Everyone has ideas about what to do with the miserable and desperate people in Attawapiskat, back in the news again this month due to a horrifying epidemic of kids choosing suicide. Jean Chrétien’s received some support for his blunt message that residents would be better off abandoning the reserve and settling somewhere less desolate.
“People have to move sometimes,” he said. “It’s desirable to stay if they want to stay but it’s not always possible” when there’s no sufficient economic base. The NDP’s Niki Ashton ripped that idea, calling it an “assimilationist view” rooted in the perennially colonialist thinking of non-aboriginals.
Other, less hopeless First Nations have opinions, too, about the Northern Ontario town. “We’re not bison. We shouldn’t be herded around on the whims of a racist nation,” said Stewart Phillip, a First Nations leader from B.C. where, let’s be frank, the circumstances of First Nations are not much like Northern Ontario.
Stewart is former chief of the Penticton Indian Band, one of the more entrepreneurial bands in Canada, and he makes a very valid point. But his band also has the fortune to be sitting on 46,000 acres of Okanagan real estate, a vacation playground between Vancouver and Calgary. That’s awfully far, both geographically and psychologically, from the inhospitable coastline of James Bay.
Back in the land of the Northern Cree, former Assembly of First Nations chief Matthew Coon Come thinks the prescription for First Nations in Attawapiskat (and elsewhere) is getting back to indigenous roots and institutions.
Meanwhile, we’re all waiting to find out what the government thinks should be done, although without much suspense, since it will almost certainly do as its always done: Extra emergency funds, extra social supports, maybe a new community centre — allowing us to all feel like something is being done, until the next shocking crisis.
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