Harper and Chiefs to Hold Summit: Expectations Are Low

Reading through this report on the upcoming summit between Canadian First Nations’ leaders and conservative prime minister, Stephen Harper, there seems no clear agreement on how to improve First Nations communities, or even on what the ultimate goal may actually be.

United Nations officials have frequently criticized the Canadian government, describing First Nations communities as embodying “Third World conditions” within a rich country. The focus of this criticism is on poor housing conditions, described as run-down shacks, with unreliable access to basic necessities like running water.

But that’s not the worst of it. It’s long been known that reserve communities in many parts of the country have been plagued by child abuse, substance abuse and an abnormally high suicide rate. We can certainly all agree that there’s a problem, but not on the solution or even the precise goal.

In quotes from the summit report, Harper has been downplaying the upcoming meeting, suggesting that an incremental approach is best. He doesn’t seem inclined to make any major decisions or commitments at the first meeting. Quoted chiefs, however, want significant and concrete actions taken quickly, preferably within the year.

Of interest is some of the phrasing used by Harper and his team quoted in the article. The article writes that “Harper has been adamant that the gathering won’t be a ‘big bang’ approach to First Nations, with grand announcements or buckets of money.” Another official was quoted as saying “It can’t just be a question of pouring more money into a system that will always require more money.”

The Harper government has formerly defended itself against criticisms of reserve conditions by citing “financial mismanagement” by First Nations governments. Corruption amongst First Nations chiefs is an acknowledged problem. But if both sides enter these talks with preconceived notions, First Nations leaders citing insufficient funding and the federal government citing a financial black hole, it will be difficult to move forward.

In reality, serious structural changes are likely necessary to the current systems of First Nations reservations, self-governance and federal funding. The actual human beings who are suffering have no political power at all. Their prime minister is not helping them and their chiefs are not helping them. To me it’s clear that the system is broken.

Breaking the cycles of abuse, dependency, and sickness will require a concerted effort from both parties. It will certainly require some politically unpopular decisions. One of my province’s local chiefs spends more than six months of the year vacationing in Florida instead of living amongst the people he is supposed to govern. Vampires like this use First Nations autonomy as a shield against accountability.

Meanwhile, our conservative government tries to score points with a certain sector of constituents by tightening the purse strings, as if limiting funding will force First Nations people to spontaneously start using it better. Yet the actual people on the ground clearly are not receiving the basic resources they need. They’re in the middle, suffering from the politicking being done in their name. Actual changes need to be made.

I hope both sides will consider making some compromises for the sake of moving forward.

Related stories:

Justice for Murdered and Missing First Nations Women

Harper Government Attacking Canadian Values, Chretien Warns

Photo credit: Padraic Ryan via Wikimedia Commons.


Eternal Gardener
Eternal G6 years ago

Harper the thug boy and his cronies, of course expectations are low...

Shanie Mangulins
Shanie Mangulin6 years ago

Given the Conservatives track record here in Canada, think Romney defending abortion clinics & promoting GLBT rights! It ain't gonna happen! The Conservatives were once the "Progressive Conservatives" = oxymoron! Under Mulroney, David Crombie was assigned as Minister of Indian & Northern Affairs. Problem: Mulroney didn't want change, etc., he wanted 'business as usual'. Crombie was hung out to dry...he could do nothing. Harper's Conservatives don't want progress, don't want our Aboriginal peoples to benefit from anything... How do I know this, by watching their actions as opposed to listening to their double-talk. Harper makes Newt look like a golden boy...to put it mildly. At least in the US, Senators & Reps are up-front, you know what you are dealing with. Here...well, while you are 'hearing' the good news & shaking hands, you are being knifed in the back...

Patrick F.
Patrick f6 years ago

Berny, Harper. Not only that but when the EU banned the sale of seal products, Harper petitioned them to reconsider and allow it. It's a 12 billion dollar a year business just for Canada, don't know how much the aborigines are benefiting from it but I'll bet it is not worth it for them as much as it is for Harper's government.

Berny P.
berny p6 years ago

Who continued to protect the seal hunt despite environmentalist pressure to end it?

Patrick F.
Patrick f6 years ago

Now Harper is reducing the transfer payments to the provinces for health care. This sack of garbage is not only harming the health of Canadians but has once again broken an election promise.

Sue H.
.6 years ago

Successive Governments of Canada have treated our First Nations with far less respect and dignity than they deserve. With the Residential schools they destroyed a way of life, families, culture and tried to do away with their languages. Many of those children were sexually abused and all of them physically abused. The adults of today are still reeling from that outrageous treatment so it is no wonder that there are still problems. I still suffer PTSD from something that happened to me over 30 years ago, so I do know what I am talking about.

Just saying sorry about that time in our VERY recent history is not enough. Harper has the chance to do something truly spectacular for our First Nations communities, and I hope he takes the opportunity to work with the Chiefs to that end. It is about time someone did.

iii q.
g d c6 years ago


Bob P.

Harper is only intrested in whats good for Harper

Patrick F.
Patrick f6 years ago

Harper is a low-life sellout, he has NO morals or integrity whatsoever.

Michael MacDonald

*chief of the Cree