May 14, 2004, The Halifax Herald Limited

Unilateral schemes won't work for natives

BEFORE discussing the ongoing problem of whites coming up with unilateral solutions for social problems that bedevil First Nation citizens, which has left the vast majority poverty stricken and marginalized, I'll identify what caused the problems in the first place: white supremacist solutions.

The truth of this is witnessed by the fact that almost every policy and program that the federal government's Indian Affairs branch developed and implemented since Confederation was done in hopes of achieving something that the UN has designated genocide - the deliberate destruction of indigenous cultures through assimilation.

Ironically, the white supremacist programs that bureaucrats developed to achieve it were the reason it never succeeded in Canada. For instance: In the 1800s, Indian reserves were set aside by Great Britain to get Indians out of sight and out of mind. On these often worthless tracts of land, the Brits started an education system solely designed to assimilate our peoples.

After Confederation, with the opening of Indian day and residential schools, the same goal was hotly pursued by Canada. In these institutions, children were forbidden to speak their languages and were taught that they were the product of "savage" cultures. To succeed, they had to adopt the white way.

As the decades passed, the bureaucrats and their political masters watched in consternation as their "enlightened efforts" resulted in failure after failure. These failures can be attributed to a few items they didn't take into consideration when fashioning their genocidal plans: the skin colour of the people they were trying to assimilate was red, which engendered in white Canadians racial discrimination towards them. And, our peoples, proud of their heritages, did not want to be assimilated.

Such assimilation shenanigans were still being played out when I was recruited by Indian Affairs in 1971. During my 15 years with it, racist, condescending paternalism and bureaucratic incompetence were so pronounced that it was shocking. In fact, it was so bad that a few conscientious white employees, when discussing it with me, often commented that some day I would write a book about it. I always reacted negatively toward such an idea.

However, in 1988, two years after leaving the Department, I changed my mind and began to write the 1993 edition of We Were Not the Savages - replaced in 2000 by a fully updated edition. In both editions, I chronicled the persecution that the Mi'kmaq and other First Nations peoples had suffered under British and Canadian rule. And, after Confederation, the incompetence of Indian Affairs bureaucrats who have, by mismanagement of the Crown's legal and moral responsibilities to First Nations peoples, put the country into very expensive legal jeopardy.

In fact, the whistle-blowing caused the publisher of the first edition to express some concern that we would be sued. I assured them that I couldn't envision the department opening up such a can of worms, which proved correct. Factually, which fully supports the content, the department has never once tried to dispute any of the revelations of incompetent mismanagement I made.

The new edition, in particular, chapters 12, 13, and 14, lay out the allegations in detail. This begs the question: why haven't the news media looked into the revelations of corruption and demanded answers? I'm inclined to believe that it wasn't done because the person making the allegations was an Indian. Thus, in keeping with systemic racist thought, not reliable. It can be reasonably assumed that if a white person had put the same allegations of horrendous government financial mismanagement practices into print as I did (i.e., by comparison the sponsorship program scandal is paltry) the fallout from it would still be settling.

That such attempts by First Nation peoples to educate Canadians about the failures of the past is falling on deaf ears is witnessed by this headline in the April 19 edition of the Calgary Herald: "Dump native reserve system - report" and this quote from it: "In a report called Apartheid: Canada's Ugly Secret, the Canadian Taxpayers Federation's Centre for Aboriginal Policy Change says reserve lands should be handed over to the aboriginals currently living on them.

"Tanis Fiss, the author of the report, says such a change would improve housing on reserves because there would be an incentive for residents to renovate and maintain the properties they inhabit."

I find it hard to believe that such simplistic solutions for complex First Nation social problems are still forthcoming from whites in 2004. I'll grant that Ms. Fiss and company believe that they are being compassionate and forward-looking. However, they haven't a clue as to why such solutions won't work.

First and foremost, the aforementioned is a white solution for problems that were created by whites when they implemented their past racist experiments. As the failures witness, it is not a viable course!

What you need to do to solve First Nation problems is to put them on the table for examination with us. Hopefully, by doing so, non-paternalistic solutions, endorsed by us, can be found. For it to work, this is the only way!

Incidentally, the $7.5-billion figure used in Fiss's report as the cost of supporting registered Indians is misleading. The vast majority of these funds are "entitlement funds," which would still be needed to support status Indians should Indian Affairs disappear tomorrow.

Daniel N. Paul


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