Keith Beardsley – View From the Hill – The time for action has arrived for First Nations – June 14, 2011

Ottawa ON – In her final report released last week in Ottawa, retiring Auditor General Sheila Fraser stated, “Despite the federal government’s many efforts to implement our recommendations and improve its First Nations programs, we have seen a lack of progress in improving the lives and well-being of people living on reserves.”

None of this should come as a surprise to this government or to Canadians in general. For over a decade various reports have been highly critical of government efforts to improve conditions on reserves. These reports have highlighted three key areas of neglect, education, housing and drinking water.

Recently, Carolyn Bennett, the Liberal Party’s aboriginal affairs critic raised a good point when she wrote that “Our Aboriginal people lag terribly behind in completing high school — according to the 2006 census 34 per cent of the Aboriginal population aged 25 to 64 do not have a high school diploma, compared to 15 per cent for the non-Aboriginal population, while only 8 per cent of Aboriginals have a university degree compared to 23 per cent of non-Aboriginals.”

Would Canadians in suburban Toronto, Ottawa or Montreal allow similar conditions to exist if we were discussing the education of their children? Probably not as most parents consider quality education to be a right. They study surveys of various high schools and the quality of the education they provide. They know how their children’s high school ranks compared to the one across town. Even the media gets into the act and reports on the various rankings along with the explanations of board officials if the numbers aren’t as high as expected. We don’t see anywhere near the same level of concern for First Nations educational standards.

If all levels of government, school boards and parents believe that education is the way forward for our children and that our success as a country will largely depend on the education of future generations, then how can we not believe the same about schooling on reserves?

Change is needed and it must come sooner rather than later. There has been some progress. AFN Chief Shawn Atleo has stated that education is a priority and his position is backed by the Assembly of First Nations. Within the last few weeks, the federal government also announced “The Canada-First Nations Joint Action Plan” which sets out to establish panels on education and economic development for First Nations.

Clearly everyone recognizes the seriousness of the problem. Both sides must also recognize that we do not need years of study or years of protracted negotiations on such an important issue as the education of our First Nations students.

Having both sides looking at the issue of aboriginal education at the same time is a good thing, but it is not enough. It is only a first step. The new panel on education must act quickly. It must meet, work with First Nations communities and report back as soon as possible. The basic issues are already known. Now is the time to be looking at real solutions. Hopefully the panel with the support of First Nations will present a report that includes both short and long term goals, measurable outcomes, costing, and an implementation schedule.

We can look at the past and blame each other for lack of progress or we can work together and plan for the future and show real progress. The time for action has arrived.

Keith Beardsley is a senior strategist for True North Public Affairs in Ottawa, as well as a blogger and political analyst. He can often be found running or cycling on his favorite bike trails.

James Moak



  1. I think many people would like to see solutions to a reduced way of life and education levels. How about some tough love though as a solution.
    You have X number of years to improve your own living conditions and raise education levels, or, we claw back funding. That alone may be a good motivator.

    Everyone regardless of race or colour has to take some responsibity for THEIR own actions and living conditions. Organize some like minded community people, write down some attainable goals, and bring them to your leaders.

  2. Eric,
    Might I suggest you educate your self on our shared history and the Indian Act which is the Federal law of Native territory?
    One small victory which has been an uphill on going battle
    Eric you should first read the history of this one fight for education and then accuse us of being lazy, unorganized and lacking of common goals.

    Ask yourself this if the Attawapiskat situation was your community….how long before the government stepped in?
    Compare drinking water as well and you will find the same disparity.
    Your tough love stance has been used for many years maybe we should look for better solutions.

  3. I do not believe the reservation lands have any more lazy people than anywhere else, and I want your living standards to be as good as any one else’s.
    How can it not look unorganized and lacking in common goals if each fight takes so long? If my bedroom had not been painted for 15 years and the landlord said he or she would not paint, I would buy the paint and do the work.

    The Church of Latter Day Saints get their group together and build a church in a weekend, if you want ice cream ,you do not wait by the door hoping someone brings it to your door. Contact Home Depot, Rona and Home Hardware, they may supply materials for a school, then get building. Keep any reciepts and send it to the MP that covers your area. I have seen some very talented first peoples that could even teach others at the same time.
    Send out a call to people who have left the reservation to come back as teachers even.

    I don’t think the tough love I proposed has been followed, there is still alot of money per status Indian paid out. If you keep doing the same things, don’t expect different results.

  4. Eric said,”How can it not look unorganized and lacking in common goals if each fight takes so long? If my bedroom had not been painted for 15 years and the landlord said he or she would not paint, I would buy the paint and do the work.”
    Sure go ahead and paint your bed room what’s a gallon of paint but what if was your well and drinking water or your school, would you still be willing to pay $20,000 out of your pocket for a new well……that would be quite generous on your part towards your landlord if you did…….now add to the fact that you are living below the poverty line……how do you get the money for that well.
    You are no different from most non-natives that post in these blogs, thinking that somehow Natives themselves are the cause of all our woes and somehow we have the power to makes these changes.
    We do what we can and have the power to do in our own communities and actively petition the government to change things only they can address……but somehow you think a coat of paint is all that is needed and can’t understand why we won’t buy the brush and paint.
    The LDS does not get a group together to build a church in a weekend, even a church needs building permits, inspections and contractors…….we are long past the era of the good old barn raising days of yore.
    A school cost millions to build and supply, not just a couple of cans of paint and impossible to raise these funds in a community that 90% live below the poverty line.
    The simplistic view you seem to have about Natives and our issues could be corrected easily if you only choose to educate yourself on the complexities instead of thinking it can all be dealt with by buying a can of paint and keeping the receipts.
    But, I should expect no more from a person that described Cornwallharry’s racially incendiary post in the other story as just “crudely put.”

  5. Methinks we’ve heard just about every excuse in the book NOT to get the job done

  6. I am not about to make anything here personal. The underlying point was, if you are not happy with something, you change it. Hardly anyone gets only the best of 2 worlds, so of course permits, building codes and planning is needed for projects like the above church building, no dispute there.

    Facts appear to show assimialtion has not worked, although I am for it (a US style melting pot if you will) over multiculturism. Is it only the Algonquins who do not vote federally?
    The Aborginal median income is about 18,000 while the rest of Canada is about 27,000. A difference though, tax paid on income earned on a reservation land is 0, tax buying a car and property tax is how much?

    Back to our regular programming….

  7. The underlying point which you don’t seem to grasp is that you really have no idea what you are talking about… offence you are in good company with about 90% of the non-native population.
    You really need to read the Indian Act. Natives do not own the land on the reservation the Federal government does so we are not free to invite business in, as a municipality is allowed. We cannot annex land nor can we outright buy it and then call it the reserve.
    How does a municipality raise money for water treatment….it raises tax revenue.
    It is against the law to create wealth through taxation on a reserve.
    As for earned income on the reserve…..if there is no economy then people have to work off the reserve and they pay income tax. More natives than not, that live on the reserve, work off the reserve.
    When we have an issue we need Federal laws changed to address most grievances and they do not move all that fast as their policy has always been, block, stall and ignore.
    Wonder why Natives protest…..because that is usually the only way to get the attention needed to get issues resolved.
    Give you an example of the speed of these changes (as you commented that it takes so long).
    To address “enfranchisement” inequities to native women who married non-natives was a 15 year court battle to get the initial changes and then another 15 year battle to the supreme court to get the inequalities created by the first change fixed. Then another two years for the government to make the changes………changes made by the way with little to no input from the very people affected by the changes.
    Let’s look at your premise that the medium income between Natives and non-natives is similar due to the tax breaks for natives living on the reserve.
    First your assumption that this is a median income for Natives living on the reserve is mistaken. You figure is taken from the Canadian census and includes all Natives living off the reserve as well.
    Second with income taxes on 27000 in Ontario (based on 5.05 % provincial, 15% federal, from CR gov site) is about $5400 with no deductions, still a 10% disparity. … for taxes on a car, if you live on the reserve and are making 18000, it is not much of a car is it? So how much in taxes on a say a $5000 car $350? Still doesn’t wipe out that 10% difference does it and I used your assumption that the 18000 was not taxed which I explained that it probably is.
    You seem to be of the opinion that our problems are as simple as painting a bed room or waving a magic wand and can be easily changed just by shear will.
    If you bother to take the time to educate yourself you would find that our issues are not.

  8. I take no offense from your educating me, Mr Beardsley’s article was all about discussions towards a solution. There are many views of course, but many of them I imagine would like effective both meaningful and cost wise, solutions so both sides can get on with their lives. We can not afford to give everyone what they want, but we should have baselines to help people get what they need.

    Simply reading the hundreds of pages of the Act and regulations only offers a glimer of light compared to a lawyer or band council level of knowledge. It does appear in the Act though that you can be given land. I also know of people getting 99 year leases for a cottage on an island. Hamilton island for example where a non Indian pays a lease to a Band.

    Indians have been considered great protectors of our lands animals and fish and I was of the impression that these peoples want to continue that. I have to apply for a fishing license or netting permits, they do not, and this helps towards income levels.
    If someones living conditions are that bad, I still say, that individual should do something about it. Education or moving to where the work is for example, instead of asking for someone else to do something unless you are the CBC.

  9. Eric said, “……We can not afford to give everyone what they want, but we should have baselines to help people get what they need…………If someones living conditions are that bad, I still say, that individual should do something about it. Education or moving to where the work is for example, instead of asking for someone else to do something unless you are the CBC.”
    Not sure what your point is; on one hand you are saying people should be provided the essentials/baselines but then you are saying if these needs are not met then you should move.
    What you don’t realize is that moneys paid to reserves are to settle treaties and pay out the Native cut for “sharing” the land with you.
    We are not asking to live in Mansions but asking for the “baselines” that other communities enjoy, clean water, school, infrastructure etc.
    You seem to be saying that Natives are asking someone else to take care of us but you couldn’t be further from the truth.
    We want control of our territories and control of the money, hell most would be happy with drinking water and a decent school.
    There was a day that in past when you lease land but those days are gone… we saw more and more land leased so a Native could raise money to build a house or put in a well…..the problem is if we kept on doing that we would have no land left so you will be hard pressed to find any lease able native land and when the 99 years runs out on the leases that are still in place, they probably won’t be renewed.
    Not sure why you think we can be given land…….we can only be granted land use…..notice in the act they kept saying things like granted by the minister, crown etc……no where does it say owned by a native, only in procession of……..Canada and Britain hold all the deeds to Native territory.
    First you claim not paying income tax (which is just not true) and then it is a tax break on an old junk car that evened out the 30 percent disparity in wages and now you are saying that a 25-125 dollar hunting and or fishing licenses evens out the wage gap we discussed earlier?
    Really Eric? You see how silly that sounds don’t you?
    But the thing I am most curious is you say “we can’t afford to give everyone what they want” agreed how about we just start with what we need.
    One last thing, if 10 % of Cornwall is unemployed why is it these people don’t move to where the work is…..lot’s of work in Toronto……why is it you think someone in Cornwall with no job and barely scraping by hasn’t moved?

  10. Whose version of baseline bob?

  11. Smee, I would think we all have the same “version” of “baseline” services, wouldn’t you agree……..access to clean drinking water, schools, housing and economic opportunity.

  12. Then everyone has it Bob, they just need to maintain the systems given.

    In many cases poverty is a choice. Mark Mc Donald can vouch for that as can his municipal election results.

  13. “What you don’t realize is that moneys paid to reserves are to settle treaties and pay out the Native cut for “sharing” the land with you.”

    There are about a million Aborginal people in Canada according to Stats Can. None of which were alive when most of these treaties were formed, I don;t have or expect anything my ancestors in the 1700’s were given or had, but this sharing is costing a lot of money and obviously not helping the people under the Act. So, how about a one time payout of 1 million each and everyone can look after themselves?

    Smarter people than us have not settled the issues, but talking for another 100 years won’t help either.

    By the way, how does the United States treat the First Peoples?

  14. Well thank you for letting me stay on what you believe is your land, enjoy the health care system, education system. See how that plays out and financially balances with what you think we owe.

    What would have done different?
    No cars like the large trucks so many drive? Maybe better health system and no cigarettes or booze no Mc Donald’s. Maybe better wildlife management not allowing people to net mass amounts of fish.

    As I said before the only reason aboriginal people made a path this way was follwoing the dutch and french. The Iriquous confederacy as it was called land is still defiined as below Lake Ontario and along what is now New York state west of the Hudson, South of Cataraqui (Lake Ontario)

    If you want your land back ask Hillary

  15. Eric, are you familiar with the Jay Treaty? This treaty was negotiated between the British Crown and the USA to avoid War and describe where the border between the two territories would fall. It also deals with commerce and the movement of goods.
    Before this treaty the British and Natives loyal to the Crown defended territory well south of Lake Erie and Lake Ontario.
    Using your logic that no one today was alive when the Jay treaty was enacted in 1794 what stops the US from just arbitrarily moving the border north to say Hwy 7? Or Canada from reclaiming Ohio?
    What about NAFTA does it die or cease to exist once we are dead and our children are running the country?
    If you are not happy with the deal your ancestors struck, which I am pretty sure was solely in their own interests not that of natives, but if you think your ancestors negotiated bad deals then I suggest you petition the Federal government to negotiate a better one.
    Smarter people than us have settled the issues. We only have to look to BC which settled huge land claims recently and have renegotiated treaties over land use, said tribes have also renegotiated with the federal and provincial governments for autonomy and control over their finances, a share of the money made from the natural resources found on huge tracts of land where control has been given back to the natives.
    A million each is a pittance compared to what the sharing should have been, for many many years when the pie was cut up, natives were not even invited to the table.
    There are huge tracts of land in Ontario alone that were to be held in trust for natives and a million a piece doesn’t come close.
    How does the USA treat first nation peoples…..look it up.

  16. Smee, your assertion that Natives do not pay for the health care system or the education system” is an opinion that relies solely on the negative stereo type that Natives do not pay their share of taxes, it is an obtuse line of thought one firmly placed in absurdity.
    Samuel de Champlain reports differ from yours and since he was an eye witness I put more weight in his diary than I put in your say so.
    My ancestors also trace back to the Grand River territory well out of hillary’s reach.

  17. @ bobgeneric. Maybe you can convince smee that he needs another oar.

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