Friday, February 12, 2010

I recently had a column published in the National Post about the existence of what I call "non-viable" reserves. These are First Nations that possess very little hope of becoming economically viable. Even if reforms were made to the Indian Act in the way of helping them succeed at business, it seems some of these communities are affected by their geography, which places prohibitive costs on their costs of doing business. High costs must be slapped on goods that are shipped in and these communities, mainly fly-in reserves, are very isolated from highways or other means of access to the commercial market.
I argue these communities may have to think about relocating (hopefully within their traditional territory) to an area closer to an urban centre to take advantage of economic and educational opportunities.
This is a voluntary move that would not affect Aboriginal title or treaty rights. First Nations would always have access to their territories for social and cultural purposes.
Anyways, response has been interesting. My favourite negative response has been that, "well, this is the same as non-Aboriginal rural communities, so why are we talking about this?" reaction. This has been almost exclusively raised by Aboriginal reporters or people responding to the study.
My first response is yes, there are parallels. So??? This doesn't mean my study or recommendations no longer apply. There are also significant differences between reserves and non-Aboriginal rural communities. For one, the Indian Act places many burdens on economic and political activity. There are significant benefits to staying on reserves that aren't there with rural towns, such as access to band council housing and other services. The most you can get in a rural community is social assistance and maybe social housing, but it is no where near the benefits that FNs provide to band members.
Anyway, I haven't been called a "racist" yet, so I think that is hopeful. I think we may have reached the point where certain provocative policy proposals do not generate that kneejerk response.
My next column will look more closely at the state of aboriginal issues within academia. This is a particular concern of mine, given what I have seen to any scholars who challenge current thinking on Aboriginal issues.
Stay tuned!