Thursday, November 09, 2006

Giving First Nations hope

A report says that the Kashechewan reserve should be moved to Timmins from its remote location on James Bay. This is the reserve that made news last year because of its staggering problems with drinking water, prompting Paul Martin to send in the military (even though by the time they got there the problem had been solved).

I think the report is correct, and its logic needs to be extended as government policy to many Indian reserves. The fundamental problem with too many reserves is that they are too remote for any possiblity of economic activity. If you can't have jobs, you can't have hope, and unemployed adults turn to despair and substance abuse, as, too often, do their neglected children. Without an economy, there's no money to maintain infrastructure, and the federal government has proven totally inept at fulfilling its responsibilities to these remote reserves.

The chief of the reserve is quoted as saying, "We aboriginal people, our land is very important to us." But the relationship of aboriginals to land is insufficient. The people on these reserves are not living a hunter-gatherer lifestyle as they once did. They are static, in dilapidated communities, and unless they want seriously to go back to hunting as a way of life, they cannot remain in remote communities where there is no resource or service base with which to create jobs. They are trapped in a cycle of dependency, for which the racist, patriarchal Indian Act is partly to blame, but for which attitudes like "we must stay on our land" are also to blame.

Remote reserves should be shut down entirely, if they cannot sustain economies. The residents should be moved to where there are jobs, and helped to integrate into the communities. The government should spend money - lots of money - helping First Nations make the adjustment, but the end goal should be to have aboriginals integrated into the modern economy, maintaining their culture through community centres, shared spaces, if necessary living together near cities, but not separating themselves from the rest of Canada. First Nations should share in Canada's wealth and possibilities; an abandonment of isolation need not mean an abandonment of culture.

I think this could largely be accomodated withing the current Indian Act, but not entirely. The Act needs to be replaced. But before that happens, I need to go to class, so more thoughts on a new legislative framework at another time.


Blogger David Wozney said...

Would the relocation of the Kashechewan people clear the way for any potential hydroelectric dam projects?

3:36 AM  
Blogger Jay said...

That's an interesting question. I have no idea.

Kashechewan's geography is fairly flat; it lies on the Albany river about 10km from James Bay. I don't know if damming makes sense in fairly flat areas, but since the community is 300km from Timmins, it would seem a long way to go to build a relatively small hydro plant.

What is true is that Kashechewan floods every spring when the river rises 1-2 metres. Another reason that it doesn't make sense for that community to be built there; would anyone choose to live here in the first place, if they weren't forced to by a negligent federal government?

11:04 AM  
Blogger David Wozney said...

Is the cause of any flooding due to releases of water from upstream dams, or is the flooding completely natural? Has Kashechewan been flooding every spring since 1957?

3:34 PM  
Blogger Jay said...

The current flooding is natural; it happens when ice breaking up in the spring bunches up and dams the river downstream, which causes flooding upstream. Part of the evidence of the federal government's incompetence is that it did, indeed, build a reserve on land that has always flooded.

To the question of building a dam, this slide, at page 17, might suggest that Ontario Power Generation does indeed want to build a dam on the river. It seems highly unlikely, however, that OPG's internal plans are motivating this report, which is, after all, for the federal, not provincial, government. More likely, this approach is being adopted because, as argued here, it simply makes the most sense.

5:13 PM  
Blogger David Wozney said...

If the rise of the river is limited to 1 to 2 metres, how expensive would it be to reinforce or fix existing levees, or build new levees, to solve the flooding problem? Would this make less sense than relocating?

If relocating makes more sense, then why cannot the Kashechewan people be given the choice of moving a short distance away to higher ground?

6:35 PM  
Blogger Jay said...

What good would that do? They'd still be in the middle of nowhere with no jobs. It's not the houses that are the problem, it's the lack of opportunity. Remember that the government relocated the entire community of Davis Inlet to a new town, with newly built facilities, and the problems of substance abuse followed them, because there were still no jobs, still no hope, in the new, isolated community.

6:54 PM  

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