Kline: Killing aboriginals with our [masks of] “kindness”
Jesse Kline: Killing aboriginals with our kindness
Killing aboriginals with our kindness
Relations between First Nations and the Crown have been a thorny issue ever since Europeans first began colonizing this land. The Canadian, British and provincial governments certainly made a lot of mistakes when dealing with the aboriginal peoples — including taking large swaths of land from indigenous peoples and perpetrating human-rights abuses in residential schools. The one redeeming quality of the British policy toward natives, it is widely claimed, was that it chose to deal with them as nations, rather than conquered people.
But the treaties that came out of these negotiations were short-sighted measures designed to appease geographically diverse tribes of hunter-gatherers by promising payments and land, in exchange for non-interference in the Crown’s colonization plans. Later, the Indian Act would formalize the relationship whereby aboriginals receive housing, education and medical care, all while being exempt from many taxes and relegated to living on isolated, Soviet-style collective enclaves, with Big Brother in Ottawa paternalistically watching their every move.
As the Post’s Jonathan Kay has observed, under the terms of the James Bay treaties, “the natives would continue hunting and fishing for sustenance and trade, and receive annual payments from the government … And here we get to the massive problem that has taken shape in communities such as Attawapiskat, which were not originally intended to become static settlements that survive entirely as government-funded welfare states (with the pathologies that attend all government-funded welfare states, including unemployment, anomie and substance abuse).”
In an ironic twist of fate, the very policies that are supposed to give aboriginals a leg up are responsible for the poor living conditions we see on many reserves: Depressed economies and poor infrastructure are exactly what we should expect when we deny people basic private-property rights (since reserve residents cannot own their own land) and force them into a life of economic dependency.
But changing these institutions is not easy. Many of the rules surrounding the federal government’s relationship with native people are enshrined in the Constitution, treaties and legislation. Even making changes to the Indian Act is a political minefield.
Nevertheless, the question of whether this country can sustain a growing group of people who receive more government benefits than everyone else, while paying fewer taxes, will need to be addressed as Canada’s demographics continue to shift. In 1995, the federal government spent $6.2-billion on programs directed toward aboriginal people, up from $1.65-billion in the early 1980s. The stark rise in spending was, according to a 1997 report in the Canadian Tax Journal, due to “a rapid increase in the number of registered Indians following changes to the Indian Act in 1985 (Bill C-31); the financial dependency on the federal government of many young Aboriginals entering their adult years; and the native agenda of the Mulroney government.”
Since 1995, Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development (the department responsible for the bulk of aboriginal funding) has spent $115-billion. Last year alone, it spent $8.5-billion, with 84% of the money going directly to aboriginals, First Nations governments and programs for natives.
Depressed economies are exactly what we should expect when we deny private-property rights and encourage dependency
Health Canada also spends $1-billion a year providing health benefits (that are not available under medicare) to approximately 850,000 aboriginal people — benefits other Canadians have to pay for out of pocket. To top it all off, Indians living on reserve do not pay taxes on income generated from government or private sources.
It would be one thing if all this spending were actually improving the lives of aboriginal Canadians. Instead, we hear stories about Third-World living conditions on reserves, such as the housing crisis in Attawapiskat. Last week, Statistics Canada released data showing that aboriginal children are far more likely to be living with a single parent, and that half of Canada’s foster children under age 14 are of aboriginal decent.
Throwing money at the problem clearly isn’t solving it, and the cost of supporting a growing group of people, including all their descendents, keeps getting higher. There are already some 850,000 Canadians that fall under the jurisdiction of the Indian Act, and 1.4 million who self-identify as aboriginal. According to StatsCan numbers, the aboriginal population grew by 20% between 2006 and 2011, compared to a 5.2% increase in the non-aboriginal population.
This country is also on the cusp of seeing a dramatic rise in the number of status Indians. In January, a federal court ruled that Métis and other non-treaty Indians should be given status under the law. If the ruling is upheld on appeal, it would make more than 600,000 Canadians eligible for health, education and other benefits afforded to status Indians.
In 2008, the federal government signed a deal with the Federation of Newfoundland Indians that allows descendents of the province’s Mi’kmaq First Nation to claim Indian status. To be eligible, people merely have to prove they are of “Canadian Indian ancestry” and that they, or their ancestors, were members of the Mi’kmaq tribe before 1949. How much their bloodline has been diluted since then is of no consequence.
The Mi’kmaq band estimated there would be a maximum of 12,000 members claiming status under the agreement. So far, 100,000 people have signed up — including many who no longer reside in Newfoundland.
It is commonly said that the benefits bestowed upon native Canadians are a form of reparations for past injustices. But this continuing stream of reparations isn’t doing either side any good. On the government side, it is a ballooning funding obligation. On the aboriginal side, it is a welfare trap.
It is, of course, too late for Canada to turn back the clock. The federal government should uphold its existing treaty obligations, and work to ensure that native Canadians can participate actively in the Canadian federation and benefit from all the wealth and prosperity that so many in this country enjoy. But in doing so, the government should try to avoid creating new treaties that divide Canadians along racial lines and create generations of people who are dependent on government handouts.
Instead, the federal government should work toward reforming the Indian Act to give aboriginals more private-property rights and greater control over their natural resources, so they can create prosperous, sustainable communities that are able to lift residents out of poverty and help drive the Canadian economy.
• Email: email@example.com |
Supporting Evidence (Source Documents)