Thursday, December 01, 2005
Bologna in Kelowna
The thin altitude gathering of Canadian political and Aboriginal elites in Kelowna, B.C. last week left me uncharacteristically speechless for several days. I have recovered. I have found voice.
Together in the sumptuous Grand Okanagan, “nestled on the crystal waters” of the eponymous lake, were the usual high-rolling suspects - hotel Indians, mealy-mouthed politicians and assorted wannabees, has-beens and never-wases who have buzzed around “the Indian Problem” like shitflies these many years.
From all the bally-hoo one could naively take this to be an historic moment, a new and guiding light in a world hitherto under the "long and terrible shadow". Canada’s arguably premier cross-country Native organization, the Assembly of First Nations must be getting tender hands from all its recent clapping having first loudly “applauded” Martin’s residential school initiative and now, putting their hands together vigourously for the "historic meeting" in Kelowna.
Yet there was something very retro in the air, redolent of the old White Paper advanced by the Liberals per heap big Indian agent of the day, Johnny Chretien, back in 1969.The basic premise then as now is throw what looks like a lot of money at First Nations
and they’ll steadily transmogrify into little simulacra of the Anglo mainstream. Despite the loud noises about “healing”, this is a classic instance of choosing symptomatic relief over confronting systemic causes.
As always there were lots of aspiring beneficiaries noisily lining up for the pecuniary slop about to be poured into the acculturative trough. Indeed, media coverage of the odd dissenting Aboriginal voice turned up only little piggies who just didn’t shoulder themselves into the first row fast enough and were thus squealing predictably.
But where were the champions to decry the blatant make-shift band-aid measures that equate Aboriginal grievance with the under-servicing of any poor people and communities? Where are the heroes of Kahnasetake, Ipperwash, Gustafson Lake and Lubicon and the myriad thoughtful advocates whose penetrating diagnoses rang throughout the multi-year Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples? Where, in a single word, was the issue of land – and its theft with all the social debilitations that flow there from?
The highly manicured output from Kelowna, titled “Strengthening Relationships and Closing the Gap” asserted in opening paragraphs that immediate action was needed in “four important areas” – health, education, housing and relationships. The first three are political gimmes –sectors that uncontroversially lead the wish-list of Canadian public expenditure whether from Kitsilano or Kashechewan. Thus did the final communiqué announce a dole-out of a bit more money for First Nations in those areas although not a heckuva lot (see “Kelowna Math 101” below). Notwithstanding, agreement on health was not reached which, to my suspicious mind, looked like a pre-orchestrated agreement-not-to-agree on at least one item, lest the attending Native big-shots looked too much like Martin yes-men, lest the whole farce be seen for the concocted non-event it was.
And of relationships, that buzz word that got first billing in the title? Well, if you were expecting some mechanism that offered profound inter-cultural dialogue and healing … get serious! The First Nations' top-dogs came away with an invite to an annual pow-wow (like there haven’t been enough of these before, eh?), this time called the “First Nations Multilateral Forum”. This means that once a year the same high fallutin’ drones from the small but powerful Native ruling class will get to do it up brown, roast goose and all the trimmings, just like Kelowna all over again. That should really heal the relationship as called for in the Royal Commission.
What is really needed on the front lines is not warm-and-fuzzies betwixt the likes of Martin, Campbell, Fontaine etc., but direct and sustained dialogue between you, me and the folks living out of sight on countless reserves and in the Aboriginal urban cores where fear among and of the Native community abounds. There are serious models and approaches potentially useful for dialogue-based cross-cultural healing. But don’t hold your breath for such initiatives to arise from gourmet shindigs like the one at the Grand Okanagan.
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Kelowna Math 101
The commitment by a Government that had one weekend left until its mandate was inevitably squashed by a forthcoming no-confidence motion, was for 5 years, $5.1 billion. Easy math here, that’s about $1.02 B’s per annum. There are 1.3 million beneficiaries (2001 census of Canadians of Aboriginal ancestry), so there’s a whopping $3,923.08 increment of, no doubt, carefully spent and heavily administered poverty alleviation for every Aboriginal man, woman and child, every blessed year. And just by way of context, the budget for Canada’s Internal Colonial Administration (sometimes known as Indian and Northern Affairs Canada) was $5.8 billion for fiscal year 2004-5 and had actually been slated to decrease by $233 million this fiscal year.