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.

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