Dec 06 2011
Imagine you’re the slumlord owner of a rent-controlled bedbug-infested hotel in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. You’ve pocketed big bucks over the years from the government that was supposed to pay for essential renovations. Your welfare-dependent tenants usually don’t complain too loudly about the mold or the rats or the lack of working toilets, for fear of being tossed out on the street.
But this time, they couldn’t help themselves, when a wall fell down, exposing several families to the elements and the shocked stares of onlookers from Hastings Street. They spilled the beans. Reporters from all over the country started talking about the deplorable crisis. It’s downright embarrassing.
An independent auditor comes knocking to go over your financials. He wants to find out what you’ve done with the millions of dollars that you were supposed to use to fix the leaky plumbing and the crumbling brickwork and rotten wood and broken windows. You tell him to take a hike. When he objects, you physically throw him out.
Then you get an epiphany. Oh, this is brilliant. You file a grievance with the United Nations over your ill treatment.
How do you think this story ends? With you keeping your hotel? With the United Nations giving you a badge of honor? With your long-suffering tenants patting you on the back for your courageous stand? With you not going to jail?
No, no, no, no.
The crisis of Attawapiskat has thankfully helped put the entire system of First Nations reserves under more scrutiny. Band leaders on many (most?) reserves operate with impunity and an explicit rejection of democracy. The nepotism, corruption and wastefulness not merely of money but of human beings is something that people in the rest of the country would never stand for.
I’ve been ambivalent about this problem over the years because I don’t live next to it. I see the conditions on reserves in the news from time to time. The places do look awful. But that’s not the fault of the government shoveling cash into these places. No amount of cash can paper over this perpetual horror show. Not with band leaders demanding 280 new houses at $250,000 a pop, according to the NDP — houses in the middle of nowhere that are just going to fall apart again after a few years because under the rules on reserves, no one actually owns the property.
Think about that figure again: $250,000 per house. That’s just to build a house, since the land has no value. This is a house that will stand in an isolated community with no jobs, no schools, no hospital, no reason to live there at all. Why does it cost that much to build a house there? Because that’s what the band council says it costs… for houses that are going to end up as firewood.
This problem needs to be solved yesterday.
The solution? Simple. Stop the flow of money. There are some examples of well-run, prosperous reserves that are closer in development to Whistler than Attawapiskat. They will survive, maybe even thrive. But those reserves like Attawapiskat that cannot survive without massive infusions of funds (or fail even with such generous support) need to be dismantled. Let the people living on those reserves migrate to places with education, jobs and a hope for a future.
No more money. No more reserves.