As some may know by reading my blog, I have often taught in remote northern communities, essentially Indian reserves. The reserve system was instituted as a way of solving the “Indian problem”, illegally confiscating the land occupied by North American aboriginal people for millenia. Deals were struck along the lines of providing agricultural assistance, money, schools and medical assistance in return for millions of square miles of land and a promise to live on the reserves.
The idea of treaties with aboriginals originated in the 18th century and was constitutional law from 1763 by royal proclamation. Aboriginal people were promised their traditional way of life would be respected, hunting and gathering and being nomadic. That was impossible with widespread agriculture and thousands of European immigrants flooding the land. The Northwest Rebellion of 1885 was the last straw. The government of Canada sent troops to kill Indians with machine-guns and artillery. The reserves, some established on the least habitable land in Canada, were a compromise solution, somewhere between genocide and giving up traditional ways of life.
Depending on times and places some reserves flourished with abundant natural resources and infrastructure and others became cesspools of poverty with 90% of inhabitants not gainfully employed. With nothing better to do reserves became over populated. Schools became large and often dysfunctional. People who had no clocks could not get to school on time. People who did not need to work for a living did not bother going to school, getting an eduction or even driving school buses. The result is that some of the most unhappy, violent, sick and suicidal people in Canada are living on reserves. The Government of Canada could do little to improve the situation they created because the leadership of reserves became fond of being the only employed people in a feudal system.
Today, there is hope that the government and the leaders of the Indians will draw up a better plan. Almost anything should be a big improvement. Priorities will be education, employment and good government. Now they are getting down to things that could help me and other teachers actually to teach. I have no idea how all the problems could be solved but they might include an actual budget for schools… Recently, the government was supplying $x per student and other silly stuff no matter the actual conditions on reserves. Some reserves don’t need buses and others do, for instance. Funding for IT was given to paternalistic external groups instead of the schools so there was no budget for IT at all, and no way to plan properly for any particular outcome. The decisions about expenditures were made by bureaucrats 7 levels removed from the front lines.
There is a plan to actually come up with a plan to put in the 2012 budget. I like deadlines. It focuses the mind and eliminated irrelevant stuff. Let’s hope it works.