Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Layton on Natives

I saw Jack Layton talking about his promises to implement the Kelowna Accord with First Nation Peoples this morning on Newsworld.

The most important part is pretty well summed up by this quote from the NDP website:

“These platform commitments are different than many election platform planks,” Layton said. “They are not promises about what New Democrats will do for you. They are what New Democrats will do with you.”

No grand plan, no big centralized reforms. Layton emphasized that the First Nations have a lot of problems, but they are already coming up with their own solutions. Government's role is just to help out in whatever way the First Nations want, even implementing different plans in different areas. I'd add that staying the hell out of their hair if that's what they want would also be a good committment to make.

This is probably the best idea a non-Native leader has suggested in a while. Too many people on both left and right have grand, social-engineering proposals they want to implement on status Indians across the board. Privatize reserve land, no, regulate its use better, change the way band councils can spend money, cut them off altogether. And nothing has really worked.

Trying to protect First Nations people from themselves is a paternalistic, insulting and ridiculous strategy doomed to fail. My father once told me a story about a Native farmhand he knew in Saskatchewan in the early '60s. Every year this guy went to the Calgary Stampede, like a lot of other people. And he'd come back and everyone would say "Hey, what did you see at the Stampede?"

And he'd say, "Oh, not much, I spent pretty near the whole day in the bar."

And everyone would laugh. They knew he was kidding. Because back then, Indians weren't allowed to drink in bars in Canada.

Give them back more land, more control over their natural resources, and let them do what they want with it.

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