Canadian Indian Reserves

Many of my teaching positions have been on northern Indian reservations in Canada. Conditions are quite variable. I have been on northern reserves with white picket fences and mowed lawns. I have been on reserves with no running water, ramshackle housing and diesel-powered electrical services limited to 35 Amperes or less. Some reserves have plywood shacks for housing yet are surrounded by forests of spruce and pine.

Northern reserves are in the news again as the Red Cross is making a fact-finding visit to aid a reserve that declared an emergency. It’s like the frog cooked in slowly heated water. Many reserves have not even bothered to declare an emergency even though they are in similar conditions and have been for a decade or longer. The federal government claims $80 million has been ear-marked for housing in the Attawapiskat reserve, population 1300, since 2006. Do the maths. $80 million/6/1300 comes to $10K per person per annum, just for housing. Where did the money go?

There’s no accountability so you can bet it was siphoned off 8 ways until there was nothing left. At the same time you can bet kids did not go to school, kids did not get fed and Chief and Council and members of the Board of Education were well paid and had huge travel budgets… I have been on a reserve where each of those prestigious folk got a fly-out trip each weekend all year long accompanied with hotel accommodation for “meetings”. I have been in schools where despite multi-million dollar budgets for education there was nothing available for IT in schools and infrastructure was so unreliable the school could not be kept open the regulation number of days. In the whole of this mess there is no restoring force to ensure the next generation is not in a similar situation.

The agreements made between the government and the aboriginal people protect certain land for aboriginal people, rights to hunt and gather, a school and medical assistance. The government and the people of Canada do not owe aboriginal people a living. They have to produce their own entrepreneurs. They have to take Canada Student Loans to finish their formal education. They have to feed and clothe their children. They can do it if they hold their leaders accountable, demand open budgets and financial statements, require reasonable compensation for those leaders, not all expenses paid vacations, and they have to support and participate in the education of their children. Nothing else will fix the problems. Ottawa won’t do it. The treaties and Indian Affairs won’t do it. They were set up to assimilate Indians.

At the same time, Indian Affairs supplies woefully inadequate funding for schools. Teachers salaries have not been increased since about 2001. Teachers can make more money in southern schools so many unemployable teachers go north. The result is schools on reserves cannot prepare enough aboriginal people to take the teaching, nursing and technical jobs on the reserves and welfare/social assistance is “normal”. On reserve, I have seen more money spent on chips and pop than proper food for children. I have seen freight planes unload pallets of chips and pop while groceries could fit in the trunk of a car. I have seen families living in shacks they don’t own spending all their money on motorboats and snowmobiles for hunting calling it “traditional” while they do not maintain the equipment so it is wrecked in a few years.

I was on one northern reserve where the possessions of suicides were routinely burned to drive away evil. A home was burned this way even when housing was too scarce to provide me a teacherage. I was on one reserve where a family on welfare, instead of fetching firewood from the forest disassembled their house from the inside to heat the place. Money is not going to solve such problems. It takes a lot of hard work and cooperation within the community.

One of the regrets of my life is that I did not go North many years sooner. I enjoyed teaching young people the amazing things they could do with their abilities and a little knowledge and resources. I remember one day a teacher found two rifles at the dump. They were both .243 Winchester, good brands but with broken stocks and salvaged sights. Examining the bore we saw these rifles seem never to have been cleaned. You could barely see light at the end of the tunnel. I applied Ed’s Red (1/4 each acetone, ATF, paint thinner and kerosene). After the first pull, we could actually begin to see the rifling. On the second pull, factory-new rifling appeared. The teacher spliced the stock and ordered replacement sights for about $100. Instead of doing that the practice was to buy new rifles, wasting $hundreds that could go to feed kids.

Hunters find ammunition is so expensive they rarely bother to practice or test their equipment. They could make their own bullets or reload empty cartridges and recycle valuable resources. In all the years I was in the North offering to teach such technology, no one took up the offer. Even the guys at Rankin Inlet paying $3 per shot for .300 H&H Magnum did not bother. They could have cut costs to $1 for very little effort and they had the time and sea-lift to bring in the material and equipment.

The only really good use of technology I saw in northern reserves was the ability to survive on the land and sharpen an axe with a file. Far too much money and time was spent on drugs and alcohol instead of helping the next generation live better. That has to end and the Red Cross cannot fix that. The first step is acknowledging the sources of problems, not blaming others.

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3 Responses to Canadian Indian Reserves

  1. oiaohm says:

    pogson its part education that they will not willing take and culture education to those attempting to provide stuff. Know that with native Australians. We have had major problems with them building modern houses at times is pointless if they don’t know how to maintain them and they are culture incompadible.

    Also regrowth rate is a issue. And there is a chance they don’t have a permit to cut down the trees.

    Gun cleaning is a interesting one. This is part gun as well. Steyr AUG what I know is a horrid plasticity weapon is designed barrel is design to be cleaned with water. Its the riffling angle that is key if the barrel will clean with water alone or requires oil and cloth as the barrel has to be made from stuff that will not rust.

    When I say clean with water I serous-ally do mean point hose down barrel and it will be 98 percent clean. Cloth is only required to get the 2 percent of junk out that never builds up.

    Most likely the Steyr AUG barrels would be more compatible than the .243 Winchester. Lazy cleaning process on the Steyr AUG.

    There is a problem here as well “Ed’s Red (1/4 each acetone, ATF, paint thinner and kerosene)” Lot of our native areas here in Australia Actone, paint thinner are restricted. Even some areas don’t even think about going in there with a car that require petrol since it will not be sold. Issue of people getting high. Yes there was a reason why in some native camps here in Australia only guns left are Steyr AUG barrels mounted to a single shot weapon. Less cleaning materials less issues from those cleaning materials and they are lazy clean. Note the Steyr AUG barrel does not care if the water is fresh or salt. So you don’t have to use good drinking water on them either.

    So the Steyr AUG barrels are most likely what should be there. Along side mussle loaders.

    Burning of the house were people died is very old culture thing. Some tribes here have it. Even if you block them from burning the house they will never live in it and it will rot and other wise be destroyed by nature. Now key thing is to find out what culture they are.

    Some of our tribes here would take what usable materials from the building before burning it. Hello steal frame with stainless steal bolts that could be undo and clip assemble construction. So they could take the house basically down burn the persons personal items and rebuild the house in another location.

    Culture compatible tech basically. You give them culture incompatible tech its highly wasteful.

    Yes that burning from the inside out that would be part of old tent culture I would suspect.

    In a burning culture building stuff out of plywood is better than cutting down environmentally expensive trees to build log. To build better you have to work out what they accept in culture to prevent destruction of it.

  2. pogson says:

    Have you ever built a house? I have. I built a 6 bedroom home once, for $160K. Five people lived in it for ten years. That’s $3K per person per year and the house is almost as good as new. You could build a shack like people have in the North for less than $100K. Really, they are frame houses with plywood walls, floors and ceilings. I have seen houses like that with 15 people living in them. Fly-in communities have a tough time getting in material but they can do it over the winter road and if they could supply local labour there would be no housing problem at all. The huge expenses come when they have to fly in tradesmen for everything. There’s no reason every northern community could not have a half-dozen proper tradesmen constantly building houses. Also many could make their own lumber locally and avoid the freight. I have been in communities where there was a thriving business building beautiful log homes and there are artisans in the community who are fought over to retain for construction projects. Deline, NT, has the most beautiful homes I have seen anywhere in Canada, all locally built by local tradesmen. They last a lifetime. The Grey Goose Lodge is an example. It’s fly-in, close to the Arctic circle, home of hockey and the best fishing in the world. The school works. They crank out graduates. Here’s the library.

    So, a community can take care of itself by hard work, planning and avoiding really stupid mistakes like giving all the power to a tiny minority of bureaucrats.

  3. Ivan says:

    “$10K per person per annum”

    That’s not enough to build a decent house, let alone stock it with food, Bob. That isn’t even enough to buy a single-wide trailer without a large loan.

    Think practically, for a change.

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