Keith Beardsley’s View From the Hill – Pointing Fingers Over Attawapiskat – November 30, 2011

Keith Beardsley

CFN – Yesterday, Bob Rae stood in the House of Commons and delivered a thundering attack aimed at the Conservative government’s lack of action and compassion for the families living in third world conditions in Attawapiskat. Along with the other attacks from the NDP it is clear that the finger pointing has begun in earnest.

Where should we pointing our finger? Whom should we blame?

According to the opposition parties it is all the fault of the Conservatives. Bob Rae’s passionate attack was good television, undoubtedly reflecting his personal feelings, but it neglected the fact that the Conservatives have only been in power since 2006 and it is impossible to fix the neglect of many decades, some could argue a neglect that extends back to the foundation of these reserves. Rae’s attack also ignores the fact that the previous Liberal governments didn’t solve these problems either and in the last century they had been in power much longer than the Conservatives. We can certainly point a finger at the Liberal Party as well.

If the Conservatives want a “True North Strong and Free” then they have to look beyond infrastructure and military exercises to the needs of people throughout the north and on reserves across Canada. This means improving health care, social services, education, housing and running water. These are basic needs that most of us take for granted. Until conditions improve we can point a finger at them too.

I have had the opportunity to work in one capacity or another with all of the Conservative Aboriginal (INAC) ministers and the Prime Minister and I know that based on my experience, all are compassionate individuals who would deplore the conditions that exist in Attawapiskat and on other reserves across the country. While steps have been taken to improve conditions since the Conservatives came to power with some $2.5 billion spent so far to improve water quality and water systems and some $9.2 million in Attawapiskat including schooling costs, Aboriginal Affairs Minister Duncan said yesterday “We are not getting the results that we thought we should get.” All very true and in need of a follow-up, but in the meantime, families in Attawapiskat and on other reserves are in desperate need of assistance now. Has the department provided the minister with an audit of the number of families in emergency need and an action plan to deal with this crisis in the short term while longer term issues are being taken care of?

What about MPS from all parties? Should we point a finger at them too? MPs are quick to hop on the latest junket and travel abroad at taxpayers’ expense. How many of them have made a point of traveling to these reserves to see firsthand the living conditions? How many will travel north this winter to some of these isolated reserves as opposed to somewhere sunny and warm?

What about the Aboriginal Affairs Department. They deserve a finger pointing at them. How can a bureaucracy allow these conditions to develop? This didn’t happen overnight? Why were they unaware that these families were at risk? And if they were aware why didn’t they take action before it became a media spectacle? Where is their compassion?

The department will send their minister coast to coast to meetings that they designate as important. All well and good but how many times have they asked the minister to visit the isolated communities like Attawapiskat? How many times have they taken a minister inside a mold infecting home and shown them the lack of toilets and living conditions? How much time does the department spend on red tape items and procedures and being worried about jurisdictional issues instead of simply helping out families in need?

What about the First Nations themselves? Were there not others in wealthier reserves across the country that could step in and help a family in need? It is not good enough to say it’s the government responsibility, let them do it. Compassion should be the key word, not responsibility.

What about the AFN? We can point a finger there too. How many meetings focus on rights, jurisdiction, sharing of powers with the government versus how much time is spent on a rescue plan to help families in need? Have they conducted an audit of individual family needs? Has the chief of a reserve in trouble brought these needs to the AFN or to other reserves to ask for help? If so, tell us so that Canadians can get a better understanding of the issue. And if not, why hasn’t this been done?

What about our NGO’s? At this time of the year we are shown lots of television commercials asking us to support a child in a third world country… very valid and very necessary, but what about our children here, on reserves many of them are living in third world conditions too? Should we point a finger at the NGOs too?

Church congregations from coast to coast send aid packages around the world to those in need. Why don’t some of them work through the AFN or directly with a reserve to get emergency supplies to families in need as winter approaches?

Each and every one of us can stand with an arm outstretched and finger pointing outward and make a complete 360 degree turn. There will be lots of individuals and government officials or departments that we can point to and blame for the third world living conditions on our reserves. But in the end we need to turn our finger inward and point at ourselves because each and every one of us by our inaction shares some responsibility for allowing those living conditions to continue.

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.



  1. In other words, a national disgrace – absolutely, Keith. Apart from that, your most telling point, in my view, is made in your fourth paragraph: “If the Conservatives want a ‘True North Strong and Free’ then have to look beyond infrastructure and military exercises to the needs of people throughout the north and on reserves across Canada.” It is well known that Harper has made the north a priority — for what? – for military exercises and chest beating? That’s all we have seen so far.

  2. How far is government suppose to go Keith?

    I watchd a news cast that is so a typical from many of these Aboriginal living conditions. Run down and unkept homes, obese parents and children. This is a way of life for them or so it appears.

    I think if the people themselves showed a little self respect and took care of things it would be a lot easier to recieve support.

  3. Smee’s self-righteousness knows no bounds. I can’t imagine having to grow up on one of these godforsaken northern reserves where there is no hope of employment or anything else for that matter.

  4. Yes the Taxpayers are at fault. We should have demanded years ago for accountability on every dollar. The Canadian Taxpayers Foundation in 2010, said about 7,000,000,000 (7 billion) goes to First Nations.

    Furtz, if you or I can not find work, we go to where it is, why are First Nations different? Do they not want a better life for their kids too?

    Lets get these people the help they need now, and teach them to take care of themselves. Then if it happens again, well, we tried.

  5. Author

    Furtz this also could be about leverage. Many of these native lands have resource wealth to tap into the future. Weakening them; moving them; all these factors come into play in the “Big Picture”. It’s very sad all the way around….

  6. It amazes me how we Canadians got our collective shorts in knots over apartheid in South Africa while this goes on here.

  7. “After six years in office, Harper to meet with first nations leaders” Globe and Mail, Dec 1st, 2011, 5:59 pm EST…having killed the Kelowna Accord on taking office.

  8. This story is getting world-wide coverage, so Harper has to be seen doing something, as distasteful as it must be to him.

  9. Did anybody force them to live in such a remote location? Or was it a personal choice??

    As Eric stated if there is no work and conditions are bad, people usually move and in many if not most cases at their expense.

    What do they do to maintain their own survival? Judging by looks of the homes, not much is done in the way of maintenance. As soon as there is a problem such as such as we see in the news now, they call the government.

    Did anyone think to ask why the sewers backed up? Or why there are electrical issues. Has anyone ever entertained the idea it has to do with poor maintenance and back yard electricians doing the work?

    Had the whole native so called treaties not came into existence, where would they be living now? and who would be held responsible? Would they allow themselves to fall onto the same system of disrepair as they do now?

    Finally, why dos they or the media wait until its winter to publicize this whole event? Good planning from which party???

  10. Wake up, smee: Attawapiskat is their traditional home, but under the infamous Indian Act the Cree who live there are denied self-determination and property rights. How would you and I feel denied the right to property and the freedom to act and live as we choose – not as someone else chooses for us? You posted earlier about “a little self-respect” as if it were a solution for the Cree in Attawapiskat. If it were that simple. How much self-respect would you and I have, if our way of life were prescribed by a foreign agency?

    To add insult to injury, the people in Attawapiskat don’t see a cent of the royalties from the diamond mines exploiting their land, which flow south into the pockets of people who live a very comfortable life, thank you.

    The Kelowna Accord, struck by then prime minister Paul Martin with native chiefs from across the country, was designed to address such injustices to Canada’s native peoples. Harper killed the accord on taking office, thereby deliberately snubbing Canada’s native peoples. Only now 6+ years later and only because of national and international pressure has he been shamed into acting.

    Why wait until winter to publicize, you ask? Very likely because they can wait no longer and winter is COLD!!!

  11. PJR
    “How would you and I feel denied the right to property and the freedom to act and live as we choose

    On that question. How would they choose to live, would they mine for diamonds, do they employ themselves in the mines??? It was one of my earlier questions., remember self respect. The mines pay top dollar.

    The rest of Canadians are also as you put it “if our way of life were prescribed by a foreign agency” Do you like health care as it now stands, How about the cost of energy? Try and not paying your taxes. The Foreign agency called government can strip you of all your belongings in lieu of payment. ….is it any worse for us or did we learn to adapt?

  12. Sorry,smee, tough to answer incoherent questions.

  13. DO they work inthe mines? They are only about 90 km west. They would earn good revenue and be able to fix maintian there homes. Just like the majority of non natives?

  14. I don’t know why a couple of posters here are bad guys. We (I at least) give money to the government(s). The government(s) gives money to the First Nations to run things. Go complain to the F N Leaders.

    We do the same with Salvation Army or Snowsuit Fund, give money so someone else can take care of things. If a part of that chain fails, find out why, replace, rinse and repeat!

    Hey, I am a white English speaking male, where is my handout, my land, my job? We have become a minority, just look at the government job ad’s!

  15. Author

    There are no bad posters here. Only rare bad posts 🙂

  16. Eric, Do Canada’s native peoples want handouts, or their land and the freedom to live on it as they determine?

  17. Hey, I’m a white English speaking male, and I’ve had plenty of “handouts”, like free and decent schools and education, free and decent hospitals and health care, free and decent roads and services and water and on and on. Never had a problem finding decent employment either. I feel pretty damned privileged compared to the people living on those hell-hole northern reserves.

  18. PJR, was my question uclear?

    As for living as they see fit. Can we assume they are providing a pristine example when we see in the houses in Attawapiskat. It also in one of my earlier posts as a rhetorical question “How would they choose to live” Do you honestly think it would be any different anywhere else?

    Free health care…free education….free services and roads???obviously you do not pay taxes. Ain’t nothing free in Canada.

  19. I give up. PJR, you have a lot more patience with the proudly ignorant than I do.

  20. The bloor street link is interesting, the one phrase makes reference to the Liberals “The Liberal “Red Book” has promised change, and the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples can be expected to recommend change” No exact date is given though.

    The First Nations want land and freedom? Rightly so! Do they not have large tracts of land (over 2.5 million hectars) to maintain their hunting / fishing / living off the land choice? Yes. Can they not come off reserves and work and buy land like non Indians? Yes. It seems like they want everything.

    I am not trying to fight here, but 7 billion dollars a year from Taxpayers, should be giving 616 Bands ( 824,341 people) a decent way of life. This is not a one time payment either.

    Extend a hand yes, however, eventually you need to look to after yourself and CREATE a better life.

  21. Thank you, Furtz. I should know better than to keep trying to find a way through fog.

  22. Either side can say that PJR, as long as people keep talking facts without name calling or unfair tactics, I am good to go.

  23. People maybe you shouldput on your fog lights and find a little better vision. Brain Fog it can be cured

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