Saturday, August 25, 2007
Cowboys and Indians: Five
How to Blow a Million Bucks
Corruption within Aboriginal politics is, in my opinion, a greater problem for the native community than poverty and addictions. Indian governance in Canada often reminds me more of Mexican or Zimbabwean politics, or even the former soviet union, than of what we expect from institutions in Canada. Not only is the welfare of Indian people being compromised, but vast sums of taxpayers money are being used to enrich Indian leaders.
Meetings, Meetings, and more Meetings
Occasionally aboriginal communities receive large sums of money as a result of initiatives or legal settlements. In Saskatchewan, most bands received millions of dollars for settlement of landclaims:
So, here you are, sitting on an account of several million bucks which is intended for the purchase of land. The landclaims fund, of course, will have to be “dipped” into in order to set up an “infrastructure” for the purpose of land purchases. The first thing you do is set up a committee which will be responsible for evaluating property and purchasing it. The committee, no doubt, will be made up of the friends and family of the band council. Next, the committee will need a building or office from which to function. The office will be staffed by paid secretaries (also clan members) and will have in it a large meeting room, bathroom facilities, and a number of fully furnished offices… basically, nothing a hundred thousand dollars can’t buy. And, while its being built, committee members will begin collecting salaries, even though no real work will start until the office is completed.
Once in full operation the committee holds endless “meetings”. Meetings are held to decide when to hold meetings which are held to schedule even more meetings; meetings that often take place in far off places where “land” is evaluated. I mean lets face it, proper examination of a parcel of land in Regina will require at least a couple of days of “meetings”, in a fine hotel, meeting room and all. Of course, each attending committee member will be paid mileage and room and board, no matter how far a field these “meetings” may be. And so it goes, mileage, travel, meals, and lodgings cheques flow like honey to the anointed. Six months in, another couple hundred thousand has fallen off the table, and the committee has educated itself on the availability of land. Eventually land is purchased, but for each purchase a ridiculous amount is spent on “meetings”. After all, meetings are expensive, and how can you decide anything, without meetings. Or as they say in the local lingo… "meet’ns."
It never ceases to amaze me how some bands manage to build home after home for their members, while sister bands manage only to build a handful of large expensive palaces for the elite few who govern. New housing is often the currency of corruption, where voting blocks are sold for houses. I remember a student coming to school all flushed with joy. “We’re going to get a new house, we’re going to get a new house”, she exclaimed, “my dad got voted in as a councilor!” Her particular reserve had a mixture of lovely new homes, mingled with dilapidated ruins full of lice infected little kids. To their credit, I know that this particular band never built new homes for those natives who were prone to destroy them. It practiced a mixture of dirty politics and pragmatism. The uneducated and degenerates were simply shunted aside where they were free to supply Corrections Canada with clients and Saskatoon with gang members. The rest, if they voted smart, got homes.
Non-aboriginals are often sickened by the ease with which natives get startup money for businesses. All that’s needed is a business plan, and government guaranteed loans follow. Given that the business plans are usually paid for by the band, it’s a small matter for band members who have the favor of the council to get business loans. Invariably, most businesses fail, but not before every last little penny of loan money is spent; and a lot of it diverted for personal use. I’ve seen this happen so many times I don’t even raise an eyebrow anymore. Failed Laundromats, stores, farms, logging companies, construction companies, game farms, and such, are just part of the diversion. I can’t even begin to suggest how many millions of dollars are wasted on ventures that even the most savvy businessman couldn’t make work. The only upside is, that occasionally a proficient native does make good. But, imagine the racism that is bred, when local non-native business people, who’ve spent great effort establishing a living, watch native businesses spring up like dandelions. What’s worse, to give these native businesses a boost, the governments often favor them over long established non-native businesses; imagine the seeds of hate that sprout then.
Education and Cultural Institutions
Most aboriginal community organizations work with funds that non-native institutions can only dream of. Whether its educational, administrational, or artistic institutions, it never ceases to amaze me what politically smart natives can receive in terms of dollars. While most non-native aspiring artists and musicians live in poverty, natives are often propelled to the top by a steady supply of cash. While most public schools ration out paper, native educational institutions sometimes find themselves in spending frenzies in order to justify the enormous amounts they receive. I’ve seen this again and again; yet poverty among aboriginals persists. It’s one of those dichotomies that is so difficult to get a handle on. There’s so much poverty in the presence of so much cash; there’s so much cash in the presence of so much poverty. I’ve come to judge different reserves by how well distributed funds are. A reserve with many shacks, and a few lovely brand new haciendas, literally screams “corruption”. A reserve with lots of modest new homes, stores, clean schools with no bars on the windows, and modest offices, is always a good sign. Most reserves that I frequent fall somewhere on the continuum. The point is, for the unscrupulous, Indian Affairs has created a goldmine.
The Head Honchos
I have little to say about large national or provincial aboriginal organizations, accept that from the sidelines I see them as the ultimate in “Banana Republic” style government. Funds intended for the “people” are spent lavishly within these organizations. Endless committees and excuses for “meet’ns” eat up millions. Projects seem designed more to enrich those at the top of the feeding chain than to actually assist the rank and file, and like all big government, I see most activity in terms of actions intended to perpetuate more big government. And, if you want a dose of vicious racism; spend some time with the big honchos.
If I Were God for a Day
If I were god for a day I’d turn the aboriginal money trough upside down. First, Indian Affairs would be all but disbanded, and with it all the top native organizations and liberal bureaucrats that have created Mexico-lite within Canada. Second, I’d phase in a complete redistribution of funding. Each adult native would receive an annual salary; say about $30,000 or more. Then, there’d be a significant fund for each child, up to a maximum per family. This money would not be taxable provincially or federally. If a native person just wanted to sit on his or her ass and blow their cash; so be it. If they wanted to advance themselves and their family, I can’t think of a better start. Most top down funding would cease, so that reserves would have to tax their own people in order to maintain their institutions. In one foul stroke this would destroy the neo-communism that has become Aboriginal governance and would give all the power to the individual native person. But, each individual person would have to become more independant as well. Band councils would now have to face genuine tax payers. Top down funding would persist at greatly reduced levels, and only for things too complex or expensive for bands to manage. In the end, each native person would have the freedom to pursue their own dreams or nightmares, free of "the collective."
The above suggestion is simplistic because it’s intended to be. Sometimes, the best solutions start out as simple ideas. But, nothing is as simple as it seems… or is it?
Philosophical Statement: Corruption and the waste of money within the aboriginal community is likely the single biggest source of anger among non-natives.
Cowboys and Indians: Four
Cowboys and Indians: Three
Cowboys and Indians: Two
Cowboys and Indians: One
Cowboys and Indians: Intro