Friday, December 2, 2011

Caught between two worlds

With all the negative news coming out of Attawapiskat these days it’s easy to simply assign blame to a) the government; b) the reserve; c) the Canadian public, or d) all of the above. And in spite of the government’s assigning of a third-party manager the solution will, in all likelihood, eventually amount to more money going into supporting the same dysfunctional model.

Let’s be brutally honest here – there is no future in Attawapiskat. There may be a few construction jobs available with the mines and some service jobs in the local hotel, but that’s the extent of it. And it’s not only Attawapiskat. There are dozens of reserves scattered all  over Canada’s north, in places so remote they can either only be accessed by air or by winter ice road.

A hundred years ago (or even fifty in some cases) this didn’t matter. The people who lived in these remote settlements really did live off the land. They hunted, trapped, and fished and had a pretty good, if austere and challenging life. And yes, they spent the winter in tents, even when the temperatures did plummet to –40 on occasion.

But now that lifestyle is no longer viable, even if it is often idealised by native leaders in support of land claims and so on. The number of aboriginals who want to live the way of their ancestors at the time of the various treaty signings are dwindling quickly, amounting to no more than a few elders and those who would romanticise the past. Instead, today’s young aboriginals want the same things the rest of us want. They want televisions and computers with internet access. They want to get a good education. They want cars and trucks and good roads to drive them on. They want hospitals down the street and groceries that don’t have to be flown in at a ridiculous cost. They want a future that doesn’t involve trekking hundreds of miles to follow the herds.

So they are caught between two worlds, with a foot, literally, in each of two rapidly diverging cultures. If they are not to be figuratively split in two they will soon have to decide which way to go because both are not an option - that way lies Attawapiskat.  

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