Sunday, January 13, 2013

Audits and things

It stands to reason that if Idle No More and/or the initiative of the Assembly of First Nations with the government continues, that some pretty shocking information about the social and political reality of many Aboriginal communities and settlements will emerge. The challenge will be in explaining how these are symptoms of the problem. These are WHY INM exists, and why something so desperately needs to change in this country.

The big example right now consists of the concern over Attawapiskat's finances and the sense that something unethical occurred in regard the hiring of Spence's partner. Having been involved in research in remote Aborginal communities over the past few years, and with friends and colleagues specialising in the area, I can say that this is just scratching the surface of a host of problems that usually remain unmentioned.

It wouldn't surprise me at all to find out that something less than perfect happened with the finances in Attawapiskat.

It is very, very hard to first of all, train or attract and then retain skilled professionals in remote locations. Imagine living in a place with severe social and economic problems have become entrenched and intergenerational.

Imagine living in a place, where once you learn to recognise the physical expressions of FASD, you start to sense that 30, 40, 70 per cent of the community might be affected. Or, where a victim of sexual or physical abuse, usually at the hands of a close relative, must watch as their abuser's conviction is ignored or dismissed by the community due to the latter's popularity or position. For the abused, simply living in the community is trauma.

In more benign cases, a professional making the move to a community may be actively prevented from doing their job by coworkers or community members who see them as taking a well paying job away from a local person or a relative, or feel threatened by the fact of their skills. Or feel like this is another means of colonialism.  I've seen examples where professionally qualified people hired by remote Aboriginal settlements for their skills left after a few months because they were obstructed from doing the work they were hired for.

As a researcher, that is someone with the power to describe community life to a larger audience, I will be told one account of community life first. As people relax, I might start to hear narratives and stories that depart from the official line. I understand why. Because of the audit culture as well as ongoing Treaty, self-government, and land-claims issues, not to mention plain old Canuck racism, any published account of the community may have political implications. It's a bit like Miranda rights during an arrest, where the police caution that 'any evidence may be used against you'. A researcher then has to be very careful about what they write up and how they do it in any papers or reports. If they're too honest, they won't be going back. There's lots of things that stay unmentioned.

Unless they've spent enough time in some of these communities to get beneath the surface, most Canadians don't have any sense of just how deep the problems go. Most wouldn't have any sense of the knock-on effects of residential schools. "Intergenerational trauma" is term that requires a sit down and a box of tissues to really comprehend. Most wouldn't understand that what people in the community value as important, such as taking care of family, does not necessarily resonate with the ethics or standards of conventional public administration and accounting. 

Some of these accounts are already emerging. They must be understood as symptoms of the underlying issue being addressed by Idle No More, the AFN, and Theresa Spence. That is, that that status quo is not working, these problems are not going away. The ugly facts of life on some settlements must not be used to against the movement.

1 comment:

Way Way Up said...

A great post here, the second-to-last paragraph especially. The vast majority of urbanites simply haven't got the foggiest idea about the realities "on the ground" in Aboriginal communities. Education is key. It is so so important for Canadians to understand what goes on beyond what they see and hear in the MSM and stupid stereotypes.