Attawapiskat and its deplorable living standard is not unique amongst our Indian communities. It is a consequence of a race-based, socialist policy found only on Indian reservations. What we see today, although not intended, ought to be expected. When people receive handouts to be unproductive and face legal obstacles to improve themselves, Attawapiskat is the result.
The James Bay Indians ceded their land to the Crown under Treaty no. 9. Prior to the treaty, the Attawapiskat Indians were a semi-nomadic people. They travelled with the seasons surviving not only on fish and game, but on trade with various Hudson’s Bay Company’s outposts. They had a culture of self-reliance and responsibility. Unfortunately their culture has been replaced with one of dependence; they’ve grown to embrace the culture of socialism.
Reading the records, the tribes wanted to keep this lifestyle and were fearful of entering into a treaty. “Missabay, the recognized Chief of the band then spoke expressing the fears …. they would be compelled to reside upon the reserves to be set apart for them and would be deprived of their hunting and fishing privileges which they now enjoy.” They believed their culture would remain intact and their fear turned to favour.
The treaty guaranteed each Indian a financial annuity, allowances for hunting equipment and land reserved for their exclusive use. The treaty also specifically protected their culture, while not preventing them from becoming part of the broader Canadian community. The only other significant obligation of the treaty was that the government would provide for their education.
It is difficult for a bureaucrat from Ottawa to roam around Northern Ontario seeking out Indian communities. To fulfill their treaty obligations, the government required a central location. The purpose of the reserve changed from being a sanctuary to a socio-economic prison.
The existence of the reserve stripped the James Bay Indians of their self-reliant culture. Requirements to stay in one place erased their prior livelihoods. Instead of making a living by trading and hunting, the natives received welfare cheques. Your livelihood determines your culture; the James Bay Indians’ culture became socialism.
The tribe now receives free infrastructure, health care, hydro and huge taxpayer subsidies — all without paying any taxes. Attawapiskat received $17.6 million in funding from the federal government in 2011. That’s $90,000 for every individual. It is impossible to conceive of any other non-Indian community receiving such largess, while living in such squalor.
An essential ingredient of prosperity is private property. Take for example the Lumbee Indians of North Carolina. This tribe was never recognized by the U.S. government and, consequently, they were never denied their right to private property through a race-based socialist policy. Instead of a casino or handouts, they built banks and factories. The result has been relative prosperity.
Unlike the Lumbee Tribe, who employ thousands of North Carolinians on their private property, Attawapiskat Indians have no private property rights. They are legally prevented from owning their own homes and property on the reserve. How can we expect people to take pride in ownership when ownership is illegal? We cannot expect them to take pride in themselves when they are serfs to government and are denied the opportunity of home ownership.
All Canadians should ask themselves where we’d be if owning a private home were illegal, where everyone received their income from government handouts, and the only jobs were for their political chiefs. The answer is obvious. All of Canada would be just as deplorable as Attawapiskat.
Randy Hillier, Guest Columnist for Hillier is the Conservative MPP for Lanark, Frontenac, Lennox and Addington and PC Critic for Labour
Opinion: New tradition of property rights for the First Nations
First posted: Thursday, January 19, 2012 07:42 PM EST | Updated: Thursday, January 19, 2012 07:49 PM EST