Beverly Blanchard First Nations

 

First Nations 101

The media focus on failures rather than successes

of First Nations on and off the reserves says expert

By Beverly D. Blanchard
True North Perspective

Beverly Blanchard is an Ojibway First Nation from Northern Ontario.  She holds a degree in Economics. During the last twenty-two years, she has worked as a consultant to First Nation and Inuit organizations in a variety of disciplines including: homelessness, suicide prevention, violence prevention, childcare, HIV/AIDS, women’s issues, business planning, and economic development. She has also designed and delivered Aboriginal awareness and stress management workshops to Federal government employees. Currently, Ms Blanchard is a life strategy coach, author and energy healer in Ottawa.  

During the past month there has been significant coverage of the situation in Attawapiskat.  We have been shown the video clips of a community with substandard housing, lack of indoor plumbing and running water.

Statistics have been bantered about regarding the amount of funding given to the First Nations and the issue of accountability. Leadership has been called into question and fingers have been pointed in all directions. The so-called experts have been rolled out to offer their commentaries on the situation and now thanks to the internet, the Canadian public can add their own comments on how this situation should be handled.

Trolling through the articles and comment boards, it appears everyone seems to have an opinion about how to fix the situation. Dismantle the Indian Act. Cut the funding.  Give them more funding.  Make them pay taxes. Relocate all the remote and rural reserves. Let them keep their culture but assimilate them. There seems to be an endless list of options and everyone seems to have a different perspective on the First Nations’ situation. So here is mine.

I am Status First Nations who has spent the last twenty years working with First Nation organizations and communities. Over the course of my consulting career I have seen everything. I have seen First Nation communities move ahead and I have seen other First Nation communities who will never change no matter how much money is available and where they are located. I have watched First Nation organizations flourish under strong leadership only to be destroyed when a board election has changed the leadership. I have been called in to fix situations, rewrite other consultant’s reports and try to balance evaluations on programming that may not have exactly met the government’s objectives. I have also seen the exact same things in my work with non-Aboriginal organizations, businesses and government departments. The only difference is the media doesn’t write about them. It only writes about the perceived Aboriginal problem.

What bothers me most about the focus on Attawapiskat situation is that it seems to lead everyone to the conclusion that all reserves across Canada are struggling with the same dismal conditions of economic strife and hardship. From my experience, I find the reality to be much different. 

Across this country, there are many First Nations communities that are moving forward both economically and socially. Many have invested in their youth populations and have sought to increase the educational levels of its people. They have entered into joint business ventures.

Some have established development corporations and found ways to get around the barriers of the Indian Act. Some learned that no was not an option. Contrary to popular belief, not all the salaries and wages paid to these community leaders are exorbitant. 

For many the remuneration does not adequately reflect the amount of time and energy they have put into building their communities. There are numerous success stories of leaders and community members who have worked hard to bring their reserves from the fringes of poverty to economically vibrant communities. 

An example of this can be seen in the Osoyoos First Nations that, through strong leadership, went from a debt ridden reserve twenty years ago to one that owns more businesses per capita than any other First Nation in the country. It employs 700 and contributes $40-million a year to the local economy. Osoyoos is not a solitary example but unfortunately these types of community successes do not make the headlines. Instead our media and politicians only tend to focus on the reserves that are failing. A negative scenario always makes the news because it makes profits.

The coverage of Attawapiskat has also perpetuated the illusion that all First Nations people live only on reserves. According to the 2006 Census data, 45% of First Nations people lived in urban areas and the five urban centres with the largest number of First Nations were: Winnipeg (25,900), Vancouver (23,515), Edmonton (22,440), Toronto (17,275) and Saskatoon (11,510). For those who believe First Nations people do not pay taxes, it is only those who are working on reserves that are exempt from paying income tax. Those Status First Nations that are working off-reserve shell out the same taxes that most Canadian citizen’s pay.

In perusing the comment boards of many of the articles written on the internet, I am amazed by how much of what is known about the lives of First Nations today is based on the fables of history. 

It would appear that there are those who seem to be caught in a time warp wanting to believe that all First Nations are still living as they were portrayed in Kevin Costner’s movie Dances With Wolves. There is a false premise that all First Nations are living off the land and spiritually in tune with nature.

To add to this there are those who feel that using the paternalistic phrase ‘our Aboriginal people’ somehow makes their concerns more sympathetic to a cause. 

To me the phrase implies that these individuals see First Nations as nothing more than children who need some form of parental advice to get their lives under control.  In addition, the phrase implies ownership and brings First Nations back to the mid-1900s when we were considered wards of the state. 

In today’s world, most First Nations people value the same things that every other Canadian values. They want a home, safe streets, employment and a future for their children and there are many First Nation people who are doing exactly that.

It seems wrong to me to paint a picture that has all First Nations living in the same conditions as Attawapiskat. 

Comments

Bev, this is a odd email but I have to find out a few things about my ancestry. I was told that my family had  indigenous roots by my late great uncle Frankie. He looked very Indigenous. My grandfather name was Gerald and my fathers name is David. Anyways, there is many reasons why I want to find out everything. My family act ashamed when I ask about this. 

Thanks and I hope we're somehow related! You're beautiful ..