All across the land, native leaders are beating the drums for tomorrow’s National Day of Action. The point of the protests, they claim, is to “educate” the rest of us about the terrible conditions endured by aboriginals. “Poverty among Canada’s first nations peoples rivals Third World conditions,” explains Phil Fontaine, national chief of the Assembly of First Nations. “It’s this country’s dirty little secret.”
If so, it’s the worst-kept secret in the world. You’d have to be brain dead not to be aware of the poverty of the reserves, the awful housing, the bad water, the sickness, the suicides, the hopelessness. People have grown weary of this story because it never changes. Kashechewan and Davis Inlet and Pikangikum all blur together. Those poor children, they say. And then they change the channel.
Everyone is trapped in the narrative we’ve constructed to explain it. The Europeans arrived, wiped out most of the natives, stole their land and tried to stamp out their culture. All the dysfunction of aboriginal communities stems from the original sins of the conquerors. Only the restoration of their land and culture (plus more money) will restore their dignity and fortunes.
We now have a vast Indian industry of chiefs, government bureaucrats, lawyers, consultants and academics that is heavily invested in this narrative. Many of these people are well-meaning. They are also the chief obstacles to change, because their remedies make the problems worse.