Tuesday, May 15, 2007

A small problem

Imagine a part of the world where exists an ethnic minority population inside a much larger majority. This population, through several hundred years of colonialism, has been forced to lives small enclaves usually geographically and legally separated from much of the rest of the country. Their standard of living and human development indicators are significantly lower than the majority, meaning many of this group live in utter poverty and consequently suffer from chronic diseases, malnutrition and cycles of violence and abuse. They are politically active and maintain centuries long list of grievances against the majority population and the national leadership. Instances of violence resulting in death have occurred between militant members of the ethnic minority and the state paramilitary and military forces.

Are you thinking Bosnia? Northern Ireland? Sudan? Iraq? What about Canada?

The CBC today:

National native leader Phil Fontaine warned a blue-chip audience on Tuesday that the anger felt in many First Nations communities has reached a breaking point.
"Frankly, we are fearful of the effect this is having on the well-being and public safety in our communities," said the chief of the Assembly of First Nations in an eloquent speech to the Canadian Club of Ottawa…suggested his tactic of favouring diplomacy over barricades has garnered few results.

"So here I am again today, hammering away at another group. Many of our communities have reached the breaking point. The anger and frustration are palpable."
A report in Tuesday's Globe and Mail quoted a First Nation leader in Manitoba threatening widespread economic disruption and a potential blockade of CN rail lines connecting Eastern and Western Canada.
Fontaine did not dismiss worries about possible confrontations this summer.
While he has a track record of favouring quiet diplomacy over barricades, he suggested to his audience that this tactic has yielded few results.
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"Consider where that attitude has gotten us — obviously not very far," he said.
Fontaine also urged governments to work harder to settle more than 1,100 outstanding land claims, noting that at the current pace of negotiations, it would take 130 years to resolve them.
Pointing to severe overcrowding in many native communities, Fontaine spoke of visiting Pikangikum, an Ontario reserve about 300 kilometres northeast of Winnipeg, where he witnessed as many as 28 people living in small two-bedroom homes where people are forced to sleep in shifts. Some parents go without rest so that their children can sleep, he said.

"How many of you in this room would be able to function Monday morning without sleep?" Fontaine asked.

The Conservative government has pledged $46 million over the next five years for the embattled community, which has been plagued by suicides and a lack of basic services such as indoor plumbing.

Fontaine has repeatedly called on the federal government to spend an additional $5 billion over five years to help ease aboriginal poverty.

"We only want what you already have," he said Tuesday.
This scares the shit out of me. Aboriginal communities are dispersed across the country. All it would take is small angry groups from a handful of communities to roadblock enough major arteries, or turn off the generators at a few remote dams to shut-down a big chunk of the Canadian economy. There isn’t any need for them to be armed. Given the context historical formula I described earlier, you have a recipe for an instant insurgency. If they arm themselves, all the more worse.

And while I patently object to the utter stupidity and counter-productiveness of such a stunt, I could not fucking blame them for pulling it, given the blinding rage I have felt at the sight of the horrendous social and living conditions in communities.

But that’s not what really scares me. I fear the reaction of government and a significant chunk of the Canadian public. Canada as a whole was very lucky that the Oka crisis of nearly 20 years ago resolved itself as it did. One stupid move from a spooked young infanteer or his warrior counterpart on the other side of the wire, and the country would’ve gone south in a heartbeat.

I do not trust a Conservative government that uses the military as a prop, compares the Opposition to terrorists, and is all about hemispheric economic projects to act wisely any more than I trust a young man with a 500 year old chip on his shoulder manning a roadblock to do the same. In that same vein, I've heard enough redneck assholes in Canada pontificate about their 'solutions' to Aboriginal issues. Hell, you can even watch these fuckers throw rocks at cars coming off reserves in parts of southern Ontario.

Like most things this serious, all is completely preventable. Spend the money, expedite the land-claims process, build the houses, and eliminate the fucking poverty. Or Canada could get very ugly.

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