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Australia faces challenges in aboriginal 'town camps'

Aboriginal elders George Robertson (L), Toby Gara (C) and Brenda Maxwell (R) playing cards near their house in Hopy’s town camp at Alice Springs. (Anoek De Groot/AFP/Getty Images)

By Shar Adams
The Epoch Times

SYDNEY — The Australian Government is endeavouring to improve housing and conditions for people in the town camps of Alice Springs but critics of their approach say unless indigenous people are included in the development and implementation of the plan, the mistakes of past governments would only be repeated.

The Rudd Government has allocated $672 million dollars to improve housing in the Northern Territory, promising 750 new homes and 2500 refurbishments. Of that around $138 million has been allocated to the 18 town camps surrounding Alice Springs.

Ben Schokman, a human rights lawyer representing town camp residents opposed to the terms of the proposed 40-year-lease, says the government should be “commended” for its considerable investment, as town camps have been in a state of disrepair for years, with little spent from either the Northern Territory administration or local councils.

However it is the lack of indigenous involvement in the development and implementation that is of concern, he said.

“If you look at the history of successive government approaches here in Australia, let alone evidenced all round the world in terms of government practice towards indigenous people, if you don’t involve aboriginal people, indigenous people, in both the development of and implementation of those policies, then they are just not going to be successful,” he said.

Government expenditure is conditional on two key restrictions – that the government obtains secure land tenure through 40 year leases, and that it takes control of the way services are provided.

Mr. Schokman, who works at the Human Rights Law Resource Centre, said the current policy breaches the two most important concerns of indigenous people.

“The two rights which are most fundamental to aboriginal people are land rights and rights of self determination,” he told The Epoch Times. In undermining these two rights, the government’s approach is likely to affect the “the realisation of a whole range of other rights,” Mr. Schokman said, including “housing, education, health and political participation”.

Minister for Indigenous Affairs, Jenny Macklin, says she has been frustrated by delays in implementing the housing plan but her government is committed to “the transformation plan in Alice Springs.”

“Living conditions in the town camps are appalling and I will not give up on the residents,” she said in a statement.

Housing Authority Not Trusted

Greens Senator, Rachel Siewert, said she was concerned the government was going to hand over control of housing to the Northern Territory Housing Authority (NTHA), even though there were a number of proven alternatives.

“The sticking point is the government’s insistence that control of all housing in the town camps be handed over to the Northern Territory Housing Authority, which has a bad record on delivering public housing to Aboriginal people and which is simply not trusted by town camp residents,” she said in a statement.

Jenny Macklin conceded there were concerns, but is refusing to back down saying the NTHA is responsible for tenancy management in the region.

“We are working in partnership with the Northern Territory government but we have recognised the need to put Commonwealth officers on the ground to ensure we deliver,” she told the ABC.

Ben Schokman said the NTHA leasing agreements were not sensitive to indigenous culture, citing a number of examples.

One local was evicted from NTHA housing after returning from 13 days away on sorry business (a death in the family). It is a breach of the tenancy agreement to be away from their houses that long without giving authorities notice, he said.

Another local was evicted for having a fire outside in the yard, even though it is traditional to sit outside around the fire.

Another was threatened with eviction after her elderly mother came to stay. The mother, who lived 200 kilometers away had to travel to Alice Springs to use her basics card. Under a NTHA lease, it is forbidden to have anyone staying that is not on the lease, he said.

Mr. Schokman said such strict conditions would have a significant impact on Alice Springs town camps residents who have been used to self-management. In addition, providing housing which is culturally inappropriate ends up driving indigenous people back out, into the surrounds, which is how town camps began in the beginning, and which is starting to happen again as a result of evictions, he said.

Culturally Insensitive

Mr. Schokman said more effort could be made to be culturally sensitive around a whole range of issues including basic negotiation.

Negotiations are usually done the ‘white fella way’ a process most indigenous people find intimidating. “Even the language of negotiation is problematic,” he said.

Government officials say they are open to communication or comment and to just write an email, but most houses in the town camps do not even have running water, let alone electricity, he added.

Negotiating with indigenous communities could be slow, complex and frustrating but unless efforts were made to find a common ground of cooperation, the cycle would be repeated.

So long, Lou Dobbs

I may be able to watch a little more of CNN now that Lou Dobbs is gone.

It was just on Tuesday that I was talking with my brother-in-law Robbie about Dobbs who was telling the story about the Fort Hood shootings. We know Dobbs detests terrorists. Even after the reporters were explaining over and over again that the suspect wasn’t linked to Islamic extremists, Dobbs pressed on. I guess if you’re Muslim and you kill a bunch of innocent people, you’re a terrorist. That’s not a far stretch. But is this about the suspect being a terrorists, or is it about him being Muslim?

Dobbs is well known for being the most outspoken critic of illegal immigrants and human rights they may or may not be entitled to in the United States. Anything will set him off. (Just trying saying “Taco anyone?” at the CNN lunch counter.) But is it because they are illegal aliens, or is it about them being Mexican? Sometimes it’s hard to tell.

There is a fine line here. When it sounds like racism and smells like racism? Is it racism? He’s pretty careful not to cross that line. But I wonder what Lou Dobbs sounds like at a barbeque, chasing two burgers with a six-pack?

I’ll give it to him, he’s honest. He’s not overwhelmed by political correctness. He has no fear. But I just can’t watch his show.

The Lou Dobbs Show isn’t news, It’s biased, personal commentary – pure and simple. Journalists are entitled to their opinion, sure. But his opinions far exceed anything that has been offered in television journalism. His opinions go beyond even Geraldo Rivera. Personally, I’d like to see them go toe-to-toe. Geraldo has taken down his share opinion-ists, namely a few neo-nazis skinheads in 1988.

Dobbs will be back. Probably for right-wing Fox News. But probably not for Al Jezeera or Telelatino.

For all of the brothers and sisters of colour, I’ll quote American History X: “You just take it easy on the brothers, a’ight? The brothers!”

Moose River Crossing

For Freddy Martin-Wapistan.

Some guy named Earl, I think
I knew him long ago
He sang of a place called
Moose River Crossing.

With his guitar he played a show
He was confident in who he was
Where he came from
And where he was going.

We departed early in the morning
I recall the cold mist off the water
On the regular train, north to Cochrane
And further north, beyond.

We sang some songs for curious tourists
The vinyl train seat being our drum
They said we were chanting
But I didn’t know anything about that
In school they said ‘Indians just did that’.

For them, it was a long wait in Cochrane
It wasn’t long enough for me
We get back on the train
with a pretty fun bunch of Crees.

I never thought I’d visit there
Moose River Crossing
If you blink, you might miss it
If you sleep, you’ll surely miss it.

I travel with hopes and dreams
Others will just return back home
Most have lived hard lives
Just like in the songs that Earl sings.

We arrive at Moose River Crossing.
Watche-ay! Lots of Watche-ay!
Greetings, welcome!
Brother, sister, cousin.

They all know each other
All are family. Kin-folk.
Like my Dad’s reruns of The Waltons
But with brown faces.

Displaced, swampy Crees
Living in the bush
This is the place they want to go
This is the place that they Love.

I can’t see why.
But I’m not from Moose River Crossing.
The train barely slows down
But for a few, it’s their whole world.

To God

By John Trudell

We hope you don’t mind but we would like to talk to you. There are some things we need to straighten out, it’s about these Christians. They claim to be from your nation but man you should see the things they do all the time blaming it on you: manifest destiny, genocide, maximized profit, sterilization, raping the earth, lying, taking more than they need in all the forms of the greed. We ask them why. They say it’s God’s will.

Damn, God they make it so hard. Remember Jesus? Would you send him back to them, tell them not to kill him, rather they should listen. Stop abusing his name and yours.

We do not mean to be disrespectful, but you know how it is. Our people have their own ways. We never even heard of you until not long ago. Your representatives spoke magnificent things of you which we were willing to believe. But from the way they acted, we know we and you were being deceived.

We do not mean you and your Christian children any bad, but you all came to take all we had. We have not seen you but we have heard so much. It is time for you to decide what life is worth. We already remember but maybe you forgot.

Honouring Aboriginal veterans for their extraordinary service

By The Hon. Brad Duguid
Minister of Aboriginal Affairs

This time last year, not long after I became Minister of Aboriginal Affairs, I was meeting with Serpent River First Nation. I was honoured to have been invited by their Chief to attend their community’s Remembrance Day ceremonies in Elliot Lake.

In the year since, I’ve learned a great deal about the contributions that Aboriginal people have made to Canadian society.

First Nation, Métis and Inuit people aided the early settlers, provided our ancestors with lifesaving and necessary food and medicine, and were key to forming the early economy through the fur trade.

But one of the most significant contributions has been their extraordinary military service that goes as far back as the War of 1812 and before.

I’ve been reminded of this sacrifice each time I’ve attended a Pow-Wow. I’m always moved by the respect and recognition that is paid to First Nations veterans. Their recognition isn’t limited to one day a year.

To commemorate the contributions of Métis veterans, a monument has been erected on Juno Beach in France. The monument will be dedicated on Remembrance Day this year.

I’ve learned in the past year that Aboriginal military service was inspired, in large part, by the friendship treaties and by loyalty to the Crown. And so when Canada entered into global conflicts during the first and second World Wars and in Korea, Aboriginal people volunteered en masse to support Canadian’s shared principles.

During this time, Six Nations of the Grand River provided more soldiers to the Canadian Armed Forces than any other First Nation. In one eastern Ontario First Nation, the Algonquins of Pikwakanagan, nearly every single able-bodied man volunteered to serve in the armed forces. The key word is volunteered. Aboriginal people were exempt from conscription and not required to serve.

That they volunteered in such numbers is all the more notable because they knew what they were giving up upon returning home. Through a process called enfranchisement, they would immediately lose their Indian Status when they joined the armed forces. Then, upon completion of their service, Aboriginal veterans would not be eligible for military pensions, subsidies, and land grants provided to their non-Aboriginal comrades. They would not even be eligible to vote until 1960. Thankfully, enfranchisement is a thing of the past.

But many veterans of 20th century conflicts lived their remaining days in outright poverty. Canada’s most decorated Aboriginal soldier, Sgt. Tommy Prince, was forced to sell his medals to support himself. He died penniless in Winnipeg in 1977.

Aboriginal veterans deserved better.

On November 11 at 11 a.m., we should take time to honour Canadian veterans of all backgrounds. Many will reflect on the service of their family members. Others will be thankful for those long passed. At that time, I will be sure to remember and honour those many brave Aboriginal veterans who paid many sacrifices in service, in life and in death.

You will not be forgotten.

Luc can’t believe his luck

Robitaille’s Hall of Fame career had humble beginning

By Wayne Scanlan, The Ottawa Citizen

He goes by the handle of “Lucky Luc” and it isn’t hard to see why. Luc Robitaille continues to be blessed by things he couldn’t see coming.

Robitaille, 43, former Hull Olympique of the QMJHL, is being inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame today along with fellow players Steve Yzerman, Brian Leetch, Brett Hull and builder Lou Lamoriello.

Even now, Luc can hardly believe his luck.

“You are just a kid, you want to play a game,” says the Montreal native, “and the next thing you know, you’re in the Hall of Fame with all the legends.”

Robitaille suited up with a few of them on Sunday afternoon, taking part in the Hall of Fame Legends game at the Air Canada Centre.

Not many Hall of Famers had a more humble entry into the NHL. Despite a tremendous junior career in Hull (85 points as a rookie in his draft year, and 191 points in his final year in the ‘Q’), Robitaille was considered a poor skater. Scouts dismissed his numbers as just more bloated stats from Quebec.

One hundred and seventy kids were drafted ahead of him in 1984 — and that included baseball pitcher Tom Glavine, who was selected by the L.A. Kings in the fourth round, 69th overall.

Robitaille only knew one scout, Alex Smart of Ottawa, working for the Kings. Smart would cross the bridge to see Robitaille play with the Olympiques.

“So, every time the Kings turn came up I thought it was my only shot to get in the NHL, because I’d never heard from any other scout,” Robitaille says.

The wait was agonizing.

Robitaille and several of his Olympiques teammates were at the Montreal Forum shortly past noon, hoping and wondering. This was the year Mario Lemieux had been drafted first overall by the Pittsburgh Penguins, but refused to put on the uniform because he hadn’t come to a contract agreement. The confusion around the Lemieux situation added nearly another hour’s wait.

Over the next several hours, Robitaille consumed six or seven hot dogs, give or take.

“I think I had about a hot dog a round, or a hot dog an hour … those great hot dogs at the Montreal Forum.”

Robitaille figures it was 7 p.m. by the time his name was called, in the ninth round in a near empty arena. Beaming, he ran downstairs to the floor to meet Kings officials and was promptly stopped by a guard from Armed Security Guard Services.

Where do you think you’re going? Robitaille had no agent. Luckily (what else?), Pierre Lacroix, a player agent at the time, saw Robitaille being held up and smoothed the way past security. Robitaille proudly marched up to the Kings table, which by that time was populated by just two staffers, one of them the director of player personnel.

“Who are you?” he says to Luc.

“I’m Luc Robitaille — you just drafted me.”

The player personnel guy looks at his list, sees Robitaille’s name and says, “Oh, you’re right, but we don’t have any more jerseys or caps.”

So the staffer pulls a Kings pin off the lapel of his own jacket and flips it to Robitaille: “Here.”

“That was my souvenir,” Robitaille says. “I’ve still got the pin, too.” A hotshot draft pick today would view the abrupt welcome as a slight. Not Robitaille. A foot in the door was enough.

“I was so pumped,” he says. “My name was on the list, so I knew I had a shot now.”

In Los Angeles, the legendary Marcel Dionne took Robitaille under his wing. Right from the first training camp, Dionne dismissed Robitaille’s crazy notion that HE might feed Dionne. “It’s funny, because my idol was Wayne, I took so much pride in being a playmaker,” Robitaille says.

Although he had 123 assists in his final year in Hull, setting up Guy Rouleau, being the next Gretzky wasn’t Robitaille’s calling.

Garry Galley, a former Robitaille teammate in L.A., remembers Robitaille being chided as “Cy Young” for his lopsided goals to assist ratio (eg. 24-3 midway through a season. Get it? Cy Young kind of numbers). One time, Robitaille vowed to set someone up on his next shift, dutifully throwing a pass out front, only to have it bounce in off a defenceman. Goal — Robitaille. He skated by his own bench and said, “I tried.”

In that first camp, Robitaille tried to set up Dionne on a 2-on-1, when the great centre set him straight.

“He comes to the bench,” Robitaille recalls, “and he says, ‘listen kid, I’ll be the playmaker, you go to the net and I’ll feed you.’ “I said, ‘alright Mr. Dionne.’ “I’m no dummie. It’s kind of funny, he kept feeding me and I kept scoring.”

No kidding. In his first seven seasons, Robitaille recorded 45, 53, 46, 52, 45, 44 and 63 goals for the Kings. His biggest thrill? His first game, against the St. Louis Blues in the fall of 1986.

“I went from no one,” Robitaille says. “No one thought I’d make it. I’ll never forget getting on the ice my first game, being on the bench as anxious as ever and I think we went as a fourth line on that first shift.

“I jumped on the ice, go right to the front of the net and Rick Wamsley made a mistake, whipped it around the boards and Marcel Dionne stops it. I go, ‘Marcel!’ and he gave it to me and I tipped it in the empty net.”

Dionne loved the fact Robitaille was in L.A. to play hockey and the kid wound up with 668 goals — 668 more than Tom Glavine — and 1,394 points, plus a Stanley Cup season in 2002, alongside fellow inductees Yzerman and Hull.

Lucky guy, Luc Robitaille.

What would you do with $50 million dollars?

What would you do with $50 million? I would have done exactly what Kirby and Marie Fontaine did. I would have left the rez. I would have surely rented the best limo from Arizona Sedan And Limo Service.

But I wouldn’t leave home forever. Just long enough to formulate a financial plan, a media statement and develop my own social assistance office.

Kirby and Marie left Sagkeeng First Nation in a limousine, bound for Winnipeg to collect their $50 million jackpot from the Friday night LottoMax draw. It was the second largest lottery prize in Canadian history.

It’s a small world, I tell ya. By Saturday evening, their entire rez knew. My family, which is once-removed from the Fontaines, knew by dinner time on Saturday. We were celebrating and we didn’t even know the guy.

The reserve is a pretty small place. Even Sagkeeng, one of the largest communities in Manitoba, everybody knows everybody. You’re pretty much related to everybody, especially if you’re a Fontaine from Sagkeeng. Kirby is a cousin of former-National Chief Phil Fontaine.

From the Camerons of Waubauskang, to the Bruyeres of Couchiching – it seems that pretty much everyone from Treaty 3 is related to the Fontaines in some way, shape or form. It used to be fashionable to be related to Phil especially if you’re a political type. In the next few days, it will be much more fashionable to be related to Kirby.

You’ll need to practice: “Hey, cousin?” in your best Smoke Signals accent.

What would I do with $50 million? I would invest it wisely. I would set aside a fund that I could manage for larger purchases and financial management – an equity fund. I would set aside a larger fund for a professional to manage – a futures fund. Finally, I would set up a trust fund for my immediately family and my children that would pay a decent wage. A living subsidy. I would expect fairly low returns on the equity fund and the family trust. I would expect a higher rate of return on the futures fund.

Sure I would do some travelling, buy a new home and a new car.

Let’s dream together. Rome, Paris, Jerusalem, Tokyo, Peru, Egypt. And there’s a whole lot of the Carribean to cover: The Bahamas, Barbados, Cuba, Dominican, Aruba, Jamaica, Mexico, St. Maarten, Antigua, St. Vincent, St. Lucia.

Fancy cars… nah, that’s not me. Maybe a Cadillac.

I would buy a nice home in suburban Toronto for my family, and build a nice new home on the rez. The Toronto home would have a pool. They would be homes befitting a Duchess and her Duke.

I would also pay off my family’s debts. I’m sure the Fontaine’s are going to do just that. The question is: who is going to qualify as “Family” (upper-case, and in quotations) when you have such a large family?

Here’s where the social assistance office fits in. I’m speaking facetiously of course. But you will need to develop policy and criteria. You’ll have to set up a system of payments and reporting. You will have to set a budget and likely have to keep books.

But giving out money doesn’t keep friends as it will likely alienate those who don’t get it. Saying ‘no’ to everybody doesn’t work either. Just see how well that goes. It may be something that works in downtown Winnipeg, but when you come back home to Sagkeeng it likely won’t go over that well. We’re Indians and we’re supposed to share.

Consider sponsoring a community feast and implement a soup line with wads of $100 bills to go around. Or establish a community foundation. Call it the Family Support Project. Not a very big one, just enough to keep the heat off until you’ve build your own gated community.

Sadly, a lottery win of this magnitude changes lives forever. Many people don’t cope very well. For those with addictions, which many Anishinaabe suffer from, access to unlimited money is a death curse. Many others will just piss away their fortune with no long term financial goals.

And what is it with cars? I’ve seen Anishinaabe take lottery winnings and buy cars for every day of the week. I’ve seen Anishinaabe get jobs and celebrate by buying cars. Open up a smoke shop and all of a sudden, you’ve got multiple cars lining up the driveway.

Kirby and Marie left in a limousine. I wonder what they’ll be driving when they get home?

How many rez cars can you buy for $50 million?


Suddenly, it all become clear
Nothing appears to be right
Rest my darling, there’s nothing to fear
I’ll reach right up and turn on the light
All right, it’s over
And it’s only just a dream
Come on turn over.
It’s never as it seems.
It’s never as it seems.

Come on just breathe.

You got to live, you got fight.
Stay away from the proverbial light.
Hold on as long as you can.
Step away from the translucent man.
Baby, come over.
It’s the finest day that we seen
But now you say that it’s over.
It’s never as it seems.
It’s never as it seems.

Come on just breathe.

Day by day, night by night.
Perhaps it’s time to put an end to the fight.
There no sense hoping, my faith is gone.
I’ll dig my grave in her front lawn.

All right it’s over.
But that’s something I don’t believe.
Why don’t you come over?
It’s never as it seems.
It’s never as it seems.

Come on just breathe.

Canada Putting On Their Best Brown Face

So, Toronto will host the 2015 Pan-American Games. Hosting these kinds of prestigious sports events stir mixed emotions for me.

Back in the day, I was a staunch opponent to the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympic bid. I felt that Canada needed to pull up it’s socks when it comes to First Nations’ poverty and the third world conditions that exist here. At the time, I considered it “Canada’s human rights black eye”.

I wrote each panel judge on the International Olympic Commission and had a good discussion with Dick Pound. I must have had an effect, because the Vancouver Olympic Committee called my boss in an effort to quiet me. It didn’t work. But it didn’t matter. They still won the bid.

To their credit, the Vancouver 2010 organizers have put together what I think is great example of a true First Nations partnership and several communities will benefit from the Olympics for many years to come.

For me, the Pan-Am Games bring on a tremendous sadness that is routed in a certain chapter of the residential school era.

The year is 1967. Winnipeg was awarded the Games, and all of Manitoba was celebrating.

This was a big deal for the small, but emerging prairie city. Winnipeg had Canada’s attention.
Ten young Anishinaabe boys were chosen from a Manitoba residential school to be runners for ceremonial torch for the Pan-Am Games. The boys that were chosen were Charlie Nelson, Dave Courchene Jr., Patrick Bruyere, Charles Bittern, William Chippaway, Fred Harper, William Merasty, Russell Abraham, John Nazzie and Milton Mallett.

Charlie Nelson, the Western Doorway Chief of the Three Fires Midewiwin Lodge is just about the most humble, soft-spoken and kind man I have known from the Lodge. The finest example of a Midewiwin-inin. (Mide Man). Just this summer I had a chance to speak to him about his experiences on the 1967 torch run.

Charlie explained that the boys were not chosen because of their skills. He admitted to not being the best athlete. They were apparently chosen at random by the residential school. Remember this was residential school. It wasn’t a very pleasant place. They did everything they were told without question.

In speaking with Charlie, I get the sense that it must have been really exciting. For these guys to be taken out of school and to travel down into the U.S. To have the opportunity to run across the state of Minnesota and into Manitoba carrying the torch for this prestigious international sporting event. It must have been awesome!

They began their journey in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Neither the boys, nor their chaperones had a plan. They just started running. Taking turns, like the Olympic torch relay we are used to seeing today. Some ran a mile at a time. Others could do two. They stopped to rest, eat and sleep.

In all, they ran over 800 kilometres, arriving at the Pan-Am Stadium in the west end of Winnipeg.

The excitement was intense! For these boys from residential school, nothing like this has ever happened to them. They came from the reserve, some from isolated communities – to be cheered on by thousands of spectators at the Opening Ceremonies of the Pan-American Games.

But it wasn’t meant to be.

When they reached the stadium, the Boys were dealt an unimaginable let-down. They were not allowed to carry the torch into the stadium. That honour went to a non-native athlete.

Each time I hear the story or even when I think about it, I am moved by sadness. No, this wasn’t physical or sexual abuse. Certainly, many other residential school recollections and testimony were much harsher. But this was abuse of their Spirit. It was something that took away their hope.

To think of the efforts of these runners. The thrill of it all. The excitement. And then to be let down by such a blow. It was just not fair. It was racist. It was wrong.

When the Pan-Am Games returned to Winnipeg in 1999, the Government of Manitoba gave an official apology to the runners. At that time they were given the appropriate recognition, as the remaining seven men entered the stadium aloft in traditional canoes to the cheering of the crowd.

I was there when they entered the stadium again, at the 2002 North American Indigenous Games. Charlie and his old friends were given the honour of carrying the NAIG Flag – to the cheers of an overwhelming and appreciative stadium of spectators and athletes. I was so happy to have been a part of that exciting event. I was honoured to know Charlie and so proud of him and his classmates.

Numerous stories have been told about them, including a play and a film called “Niigaanibatowaad- Frontrunners” available through the National Film Board.

I don’t know what to feel about Toronto getting the Pan-Am Games. Just like the Olympics or other prestigious events, they will likely use First Nations’ imagery. They will want dancers, singers and Anishinaabe artwork throughout. As always, Canada will put on their best brown face for the world to see.

But very few will know Canada’s true history in hosting the Pan-Am Games.

“The sound of my footsteps keeps me focused. The sun is just coming up at the end of the road, and it is a nice view but kind of lonely. The other guys are asleep in the bus behind me. They said I run to get away from the school, but I like to think I run to return to my culture, from the darkness to the light, to the Creator.” ~ Bill Chippeway

To Live in Sludge or Not to Live in Sludge

Auditor General Sheila Fraser thinks reserves are filthy, environmentally toxic places and the federal government has done nothing to help clean it up.

It’s true. INAC and Health Canada do very little to monitor landfill sites, water treatment facilities, septic systems, hazardous waste and contaminated sites. As a result, there have been numerous environmental incidents in First Nation communities, some leading to declared states of emergency.

There are few federal regulations that apply to environmental protection on-reserve, and the federal government has taken little action to change this said Fraser in her latest tirade against government mismanagement.

This is yet another reason why First Nations need to take care of these things ourselves. This is what self-government should be all about.

If there is a mess in our backyard, we need to clean it up. Sure, it may not be our legal responsibility, but we can’t be living in sludge and hope that someone else will clean it up for us.

Yes, these things cost money. In the North, sometimes these costs are extravagant. The environmental problems and infrastructure demands are often complex. But we need to find ways to solve our own problems, someway, somehow. We cannot be constantly dependant on the federal government. Especially if we’re living in sludge.

Some think the solution is to call a state of emergency. They think that if it’s considered an emergency, a magic purse full of money will be airlifted into the community.

The sad thing about it – it’s true. To use two metaphors in one sentence, a magic purse full of money does inevitably arrive to extinguish the flames of political discontent.

Oh, and don’t forget about the evacuation. Everybody and their grandmother (literally) leave town to spend a few weeks in a cushy hotel ordering pizza and room service. The evacuation ends up costing way more than clean-up itself.

This leads to further problems.

What most people don’t realize is that when millions of dollars are spent on evacuation and other emergency costs – that money comes from existing budgets. As a result, Indian and Northern Affairs Canada has significant capital deficits and a backlog of necessary projects a mile long.

So, when the next sewage system goes awry, or another school burns down, or mould is found in an entire subdivision, or another diesel fuel spill is absorbed into the ground – another emergency and evacuation is funded from capital budgets.

The squeaky wheel always gets the grease, especially in an emergency.

There are a few practical things that can be done to address such problems.

Strategic Planning – 62.5 grams of prevention is worth a kilogram of cure. First Nations need strategic plans to deal with environmental issues and clean up. How will this get done? What are our roles? What is the federal government’s role? How will this get paid for? What can we do to mitigate some of these issues, in the short term and in the long term? These are all questions that can be answered through developing and implementing a good strategic plan.

A Community Foundation – First Nations need to prepare for the worse. This always requires money. Whether it’s H1N1, an environmental catastrophe or an evacuation – mobilization plans and emergency plans cost money to implement. Community foundations could be established by First Nations to be used for these purposes. The Foundation should be incorporated and become a registered charitable organization. Gaming dollars, discretional revenue, impact benefit dollars and land claim settlement dollars should all be placed into trust. A grand fundraising strategy should also be adopted and benefactors should be sought. These dollars need to be managed and invested by professionals. A plan should be developed on how much money needs to be raised, how it will be raised and what conditions will be spent. Along with a low interest commercial mortgage, in no time, you have the means to build a community centre or a school. It’s better than waiting 25 years for INAC to come along.

Lawsuits, Lawsuits – If you have a problem and it needs to be solved, take the federal government to court. Perhaps, mediation may lead to a quicker settlement. Unfortunately, litigation always has winners and losers. If you are a loser, see the recommendations above.

A General State of Emergency – If all else fails and we find ourselves living in sludge, obviously we’ve failed miserably. Find a reason, any reason to call a state of emergency. Chronic under-funding by the federal government has led us to call a state of emergency. – or – Chronic poverty has led us to call a state of emergency. – or – The incidents of H1N1 has led us to call a state of emergency (Rest assured that’s coming). – or – Our collective backs hurt, we can’t go to work and it has led us to call a state of emergency. If every First Nation called for a state of emergency at the same time, 134 states of emergency in Ontario, we can airlift everyone to hotels in Toronto or Hamilton. Maybe we can coincide the state of emergency with the Canadian Aboriginal Festival.

Don’t worry, if we don’t get a cushy hotel, some of us can be placed with foster families who will take care of us. Dependancy has it’s perks.