No Bugles

The Indigenous People Problem - Part 3

Young people around most of the world spend the better part of their youth in school. That’s about 12 years of elementary and high school. It’s law in most countries that children stay in school till at least 16 years of age. Society expects it’s children to get an education to prepare them for the rest of their lives. Most parents also encourage their children to put in their best effort and to seriously think about post-secondary education.
Imagine a society where most of the above is not so. Where many children miss over 100 days of school. Where many children function several grades below their age level in basic reading and math skills. Imagine a society where few children graduate from high school and many do not get as far as grade 8.
This is the reality on Canada’s myriad Indian reserves spread across the country. Many reserves completely cut off from the rest of civilization with no means of getting to or off the reserve.
It is incredible that nobody sees this as an ongoing tragedy that is avoidable. Completely avoidable. Politicians keeping mouthing the same platitudes. Each government promises more money. Indian chiefs and leaders keep blaming the government. Meanwhile each year another new generation of youth is destined to utter and complete failure.
The situation is complicated in details. But the principles are easy to see and understand.
Let’s start off by asking what is the single element that provides the incentive for children to stay in school in mainstream Canada. There is the law, for one. It compels parents to send their children to school. There is every parent’s desire to see their children succeed and make something good of themselves. Finally, there is the underlying element that drives all this forward. Hope. It’s the driving force that parents and their children have that after all those years of studying, there will be opportunities to get good jobs, to move on and get married, maybe pursue higher education. That hope is mostly rewarded. It is self-fulling. You see others do well and you feel and believe you can do the same.
Often, it involves children moving away to other cities, even countries, to find the jobs they want that fit their talents and education. That option allows the motivation to know that opportunities are there. It goes without saying. We live in a highly mobile society. People move from small centres to big cities, from province to province and state to state and even to other countries. It has always been that way. Only more so today with increased mobility and communications.
Now place yourself on a typical Indian reserve, somewhere in the Canadian wilderness. Far from the nearest main town or city. There is no internet. You are effectively isolated and cut off from the rest of the world.
Because of the normal small population of these reserves, services are logically limited. The federal government has responsibility to provide basic clean water, sewage, roads and electricity but this is proving impossibly expensive and impractical. So there is often no clean water. Housing, also a federal responsibility, is mostly run down and worn out. Many homes are overcrowded and not suitable for human habitation.
The typical reserve has more than half of its population under 16. Attracting permanent or semi-permanent teachers is difficult and mostly impossible. Turn-over is often 100% per year. Other professionals such as qualified specialists to run the reserve’s infrastructure are equally impossible to find and keep. There are no hotels, no accommodations for off-reserve residents to take up even for short periods. Schools suffer maintenance issues and of course, without long-term dedicated teachers, education on reserves is haphazard to non-existent.
The motivation for parents to make sure their kids go to school, is not enforced by law, therefore kids who should be in school roam free. The truly exceptionally motivated child will strive to pass their grades and succeed. Most will be distracted and miss most classes. Graduation day is a lonely event for the few that make it.
But what becomes of those graduates. Say they reach grade 12 with honours? What then?
This is where “hope” fails. There is nothing on reserve to compel a graduate of high school to think about a good job because there is none. There is no higher education on reserves. So the only option is leaving for the big city. So that honour student is now lost to the reserve because even if he or she gets a degree or higher training in some field, there is nothing on the reserve to return to.
In the miraculous possibility that most children actually end up completing high school and graduating, what then? What’s there to look forward to on the reserve. What hope is there on the reserve to bother staying. And if you do stay, what do you do.
Remember, reserves are enclaves of a federally owned system of lands that residents themselves have no ownership of or interest in the properties that surround them.
Without direct ownership, there can be no enterprise. No commercial activity because you don’t invest in what you don’t actually own and everything relates back to owning your own land and developing it and building businesses and creating wealth.
The closest thing you can compare an Indian reserve to is a communist system or feudal system (but that is hundreds of years gone now) of land controlled by the central government. As we know, where communism was tried, it failed utterly and completely. People in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe were part of a cruel experiment whereby they were expected to be motivated to work hard for the state on land you did not own or profit from in any way yourself. Communism failed. It destroyed three or four generations before the wall fell. Slowly, these countries are recovering.
Reserves embody everything wrong with a communist system. Yet in Canada, 1.4 million people live under such a system right now.
As we speak, more than half a million Indian children under the age of 18 are facing a hopeless future. It is a Catch 22. Get an education and face unemployment. Quit school and, well... same thing. The reserve is a dead-end by definition. There is no reason to wake up excited on the reserve. You don’t own the house you live in so you’re for sure not fixing the leaky roof or broken window. You’re not going to work... work at what. The bank? The factory? The IT company?
Facing each child is the fact that because all the land on the reserve is owned by the feds you cannot invest in creating a business because commercial property does not exist. So graduate with some great new business idea and you need to take it off reserve to see it become reality. Everything you do on the reserve is governed by the feds. And because the land is all leased land, going for financing to one of the banks or lenders across Canada will result in zero success. Banks will not, can not, do business on reserves. So financing, a crucial part of any business activity, is non-existent for any reserve based business idea.
Reserves are doomed to keep going the way they are because they are designed to create failure in the people who choose to stay there in a hopeless cycle of poverty and utter and complete lack of hope. And to those who challenge me for suggesting there is no hope, then tell me, what hope is there.
The children of reserves, those who do finish schools, are forced to leave when they graduate or their education is completely useless on a reserve that cannot be the centre of commerce. Thus there are no jobs, no new work, no business - new or old. The feds have made sure of that.
Those children who do pass grade 12 and go away will not come back. And are thus lost to the reserve forever. Those who stay have nothing to do. No school because what’s the point. No work. So drugs, gangs and crime become the escape for many and the social decline of reserves continues in a downward spiral.
Ironically, the Indian chiefs and leaders of the so-called “Nations” (that is a bit of a joke - more on that later) are mostly at fault for taking the “beggar” role instead of the “reforming” role. Never ceasing to foist blame on society at large for all reserve problems, Indian leaders have become clever at creating guilt in main stream Canadian society and thus extracting ever more taxpayer funds to solve unsolvable social problems on reserves, particularly to stop the suicides by youth who have long ago given up.
Canadian politicians are to fault as well for their lack of understanding about the source of problems on reserves and lack of guts to do something besides give platitudes.
And don’t throw the racism card about whites hating Indians. Whites and all other Canadian citizens of every creed and colour are actually quite liberal and accepting of people of different cultures or colour. Racism is not an issue. It is an imagined excuse by the Indian leadership to extract more guilt money or ransom. And Canadians keep throwing more money. And it does nothing.
Want to solve the Indian problem? Start lobbying for land rights on reserves. Give people the land they should have owned a hundred years ago. Like settlers got when they came here 150 years ago. Let Indians figure out what they want to do with their land. Maybe they’ll start up home building companies and building material companies. Maybe they’ll tell their kids to get a trade and join the business building homes. Maybe they can start up banks and shopping malls and office buildings. Maybe a few hotels so visiting professionals have a proper place to stay when they drop by to do business. Maybe some Indians will come back as lawyers and set up practice to deal with land titles and other legal matters. Maybe they’ll set up shop in the nice new offices on reserve. Maybe, other reserves will want to join in and consolidate to take advantage of economy of scale. Maybe some engineers will come back and help design roads leading to nearby urban centres. We’ll start seeing “For Sale” signs on properties and people will start getting the hang of property ownership and moving around and when they retire they’ll sell their home for a retirement fund or maybe give it to their grandchildren. Suddenly the reserve is a hub of activity. Parents are making their kids go to school, or else, because they can see the competitive advantage of a good education. Some kids end up leaving anyway after they graduate, but others from other places move in, seeing there are some good things happening on reserve. Finally.
This is a pipe dream. But it’s not impossible. And it won’t happen overnight. There have been property rights movements by a few Indian individuals. Good newspaper articles have broached the subject. But it will take monumental enlightened leadership and will to make this happen. Property rights have driven every modern society to prosperity and can work on reserves. The millions of acres of reserve lands needs to be subdivided and given back to the Indians. Most, if not all, problems we currently keep hearing about will go away. Indians will find their place in society and history.
This can happen with the right leadership both on and off reserve to start dismantling this awful archaic destructive and evil system of reserves that has killed so many innocent lives. It is doable. And it is necessary.

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