I had gone through several decades of life seeing aboriginal Canadians either as inspiring cultural and spiritual icons (eg, characters in Carlos Castenada books)…
…or as unfortunate victims in northern hovels with non-existent insulation and undrinkable water.
So, knowing that the former impression is sometimes realistic (see Wikipedia entry on the “Native American Church”), and that the latter impression is often realistic, I decided (like the bored middle-class white guy that I am) to Google something. But what?
I had always wondered why so many reserves seemed to have been neglected, and I suspected that the situation wasn’t that much different than the neglect we often see in rental units in any typical Canadian town or city. The people don’t own their home, so they rely on an absentee landlord to fix things and improve things.
So I googled “canadian indian act” and “land ownership”. What I found was a lively debate between some folks (notably Tom Flanagan of previous Reform Party fame) who would like to see First Nations people be able to own their own land, and some other folks (often in reply to Flanagan’s 2010 book on the subject) who think that communal non-ownership and (implicitly) throwing more money at the status quo will somehow solve the issues.
The Perfect is the Enemy of the Good comes to mind. And I wonder if any kind of Shangri-la is possible in those isolated reserves where economic opportunities are next to nil. And it should be noted that the Nisgaa of B.C. have already tried Flanagan’s approach on a few individual lots, and they seem to like it.
One person who doesn’t like it is Pamela Palmeter, a Mi’kmaq lawyer based in Toronto, who wrote a critical review of Flanagan’s book here. She praises the traditional notion of communal ownership. However it is something which tends not to work very well in a global culture of individualism. And even if communitarianism (something I’m a HUGE fan of) was to somehow overturn the current paradigm of global greed, it would still need localized, private ownership and a stable economic base.
Palmeter is also concerned about the possibility of private lots on reserves gradually being sold to non-natives. Perhaps that is a valid concern (and I’m not a big fan of casinos anywhere, let alone on reserves), but such a concern pales in comparison to what is happening on far too many reserves in the 21st century.