|Chief Terrrance Nelson
Photo Wayne Glowacki
By Chief Terrance Nelson
December 31st 2011
Attawapiskat First Nation has done a fantastic job of creating debate on the First Nation housing crisis in Canada. The problem is most people still have no idea why there is a housing crisis and why there is extreme poverty on First Nation communities. The Government response was to impose further economic sanctions on Attawapiskat by putting the First Nation into Third Party Management. The Prime Minister had to justify the action by pushing out misinformation that racists in Canada love to hear.
Quoted in a Canadian Press article is the opening volley of the Conservative Government response to the Attawapiskat accusations in the recent media war.
“Prime Minister Stephen Harper says he's not happy that millions of federal dollars have not alleviated the housing crisis in the Northern Ontario native community of Attawapiskat.”
"This government has spent some $90 million since coming to office just on Attawapiskat," he told the Commons on Tuesday. "That's over $50,000 for every man, woman and child in the community.
Good trick. The Canadian Press article generated over 400 comments at one newspaper and a lot of it was extremely racist. Most people assumed that the money went directly to every man, woman and child in Attawapiskat and of course the trick is not to provide the information that this $50,000 per person money did not come in one single lump sum check. “Since coming to office” is not explained. It means divided by six years. So, if my math is correct, the government spent approximately $8,333 per person per year or roughly $700 per month per person. So, did the money actually go the individuals on reserve or to the white people who provide services to the people of the First Nation. Unless you pour through the First Nation audits, you never get to know where the $90 million was spent, so it is easier for most people to just believe that the Chief and Council misspent the money or went on a cruise with it.
The Government is trying to justify keeping First Nation housing funding to around $400 million per year for all 633 First Nations across Canada. Our national organization the Assembly of First Nation states that we need 80,000 new houses for the 633 First Nations in Canada. That is not counting renovations. At a minimum cost of $150,000 per house for northern First Nations not including water and sewer, the price tag for all present day new housing on reserve is around $120 billion. That’s the price today just for housing. Government funding of $400 million per year for housing will take 300 years to meet the present day new housing needs of First Nations.
Let me explain to those willing to research for more than a little sound bite why individuals on reserve can’t own their own house and why there is extreme poverty on reserve.
Section 89 of the Canadian Indian Act.
The Canadian Indian Act put in place by the British in 1876 still operates in restricting indigenous people’s human rights. Under Canadian law, First Nation people cannot get a mortgage on reserve without the express written permission of the Minister of Indian Affairs.
W.H. Jennings on Canadian Business Law, Eleventh printing 1963, explains Section 89;
When living on a government reservation, an Indian is a ward of the Crown and is protected in the following manner;
1) He is not legally bound in a contract-not even for necessaries.
2) As in the case of a minor, such Indian may hold the other party to the contract.
3) No contract to dispose of or to place a mortgage against the property of an Indian is binding.
4) All personal property of an Indian is free from seizure for debt, but the unpaid seller may take security on any article purchased for any part of the price which is unpaid.
OTHER PARTIES HAVING LIMITED POWERS
In addition to minors, insane persons, intoxicated persons and Indians, two other classes have limited power to contract.
1) Limited companies
2) Alien enemies
Jenning’s book was written in 1963, the wording maybe different today but the impact of Section 89 in 2011 is exactly as described by Jennings fifty years ago.
According to Canadian law, reservations are government lands, not First Nation property. An “Indian” living on a government reservation is a ward of the Crown. No matter how old you are, you are a child in the eyes of the law. What Bank or financial institution is going to lend money to a child or an alien enemy? The land cannot be pledged, it cannot be used to get loans. Under Canadian law, individuals on reservations are not allowed to access banks and financial institutions without the express written permission of the Minister of Indian Affairs. No matter how well you take care of the public house you live in, it cannot increase in value because it cannot be sold on the open market. Reservations are under economic sanctions but no one in Canada will admit that. Individual rights are restricted by Canadian law.
The First Nation Chiefs and Councils are stuck delivering public housing to individuals on reserve with the permission of the Minister of Indian Affairs through Ministerial Guarantee of the loans. What Indian Affairs does in working with Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation in providing the housing loans to First Nations is to restrict Shelter Allowance to First Nation Governments. First Nations governments get less than the cost of providing shelter to their tribal members.
Most First Nations are facing anywhere from 60 to 95% unemployment in their communities. The feds even if their public announcements endorse water and sewer and adequate housing for First Nations, privately, they see it different. They see increasing welfare rates if they build housing in isolated communities in the north. If they provide housing in the northern communities, they are stuck with dramatically increasing financial responsibilities for those First Nations with no end in sight.
Provinces are in a bind. Generally, provincial policies have always been that the First Nations are a federal responsibility. Problem with that provincial policy is that First Nations people are being forced off reserve into the cities and onto provincial systems. In Roseau River Anishinabe First Nation shelter allowance from Indian Affairs is around $300 per month for a person on welfare. How do you build and maintain a house at 40% of the cost of delivering a proper housing program? The answer is you don’t and if you believe the Government, Chiefs and Council are mismanaging housing money.
What are the solutions?
Solution one, don’t wait for government.
Solution two, take control of your own wealth.
Keewatin Tribal Council in northern Manitoba consisting of 11 First Nations are living in a similar housing situation as Attawapiskat yet their region sends $4 billion a year to the south in money generated from their lands and natural resources. So, Harper sent $90 million to Attawapiskat in six years but what did Attawapiskat and other First Nations in northern Ontario send south in terms of money generated from their lands and resources? Did they get a share of the billions of dollars generated by Hydro One? Did Hydro One pay First Nations for the electricity sold to Americans? Did the gold mines, timber companies or any of the industry that mines 60 different metals and minerals in Canada pay indigenous people for their property?
If indigenous people got 10% of the wealth generated from their historical lands, they could pay for their own housing, their own schools, their own health centers and they could look after themselves without the immigrant governments telling them how to live. As long as indigenous people continue to live under the Canadian Indian Act, they will continue on government funding and having to be accountable to the immigrant governments. If indigenous people want to break out of the economic sanctions, they need to bypass the immigrant governments and immigrant financial systems. With the world passing 7 billion people, the fight in Canada between indigenous people and the immigrant governments will be about who controls natural resources. Foreign governments and foreign business are still waiting for the indigenous people of Canada to wake up.
The largest trade relationship in the world is between Canada and the United States. Americans in huge financial trouble gives Canadian indigenous people leverage. Declared trade between Canada and the United States was $4.5 trillion in the last decade. With the Tarsands of Alberta being a global issue and the United States getting 98% of the oil produced in Canada, Indigenous people in Canada will have to make a stand if they want real changes to their lives. If you read the comments regarding Attawapiskat, you will quickly realize the magnitude of the hatred against indigenous people that has allowed the over 600 murdered and missing indigenous women in Canada to become a reality.
Prime Minister Harper is taking a wrong approach in his statements to Parliament. Feeding the hatred against indigenous people in Canada is not a good approach. Unless we all try to understand the underlying reasons why indigenous people in this country are in the situation they are in, we are headed to a drastic confrontation, one where it is not so clear, who will win. Housing on reserve is only a symptom, it is not the problem. The problem is undeclared economic sanctions and if indigenous people want a solution, they are going to have to think outside the box. Reading the 400 plus comments on the article on Attawapiskat makes me wonder if Prime Minister Harper is doing this deliberately and if he knows the consequences of his statements.
Chief Terrance Nelson