Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Dear Mr. Harper and Canadian residents, please EDIT your priorities...

A picture of The Winnipeg Free Press' series No Running Water.

It has been reported that the Canadian Museum for Human Rights is getting $100-million dollars in funding from the federal government, plus $20-million (each) from the province and the city.


I am sure the Canadian Museum for Human Rights will be a great destination for Winnipeggers and tourists alike. Perhaps after people have looked at the state-of-the-art facility with elaborate displays of human rights issues at the museum, they can board a flight to one of the remote northern communities in Manitoba that have no running water, and view the violation of basic human rights on a more primal level...

I don't mean to get down on the museum, as I believe that it is a wonderful idea. In fact, I give a great deal of credit to all of the people who have dedicated their own time and money into the development of this project. These donors should feel great that The Canadian Museum for Human Rights -- Izzy Asper's dream -- is coming into fruition. However, I find it sad that all levels of government can kick in such large pots of money to a human rights museum, when they can't seem to do it for the thousands of Canadians living in remote northern communities (in the very province that the museum is being built!) that don't even have the basic human right of clean drinking water.

It's time for all levels of government to EDIT their perception on these types of issues, and consider that it is a mistake to ignore one part of a story for another.

I'm not against the museum, but I am against the fact that people are being ignored.


  1. I agree 100%

    It takes courage to say something as political as you did, here. Thank you for stating what, I'm sure, many are thinking, but are too nervous for fear of the ramifications.

  2. This is a very interesting view on things.

    I agree with the statement that the basic rights of people should be put ahead of funding for all projects but I feel that it should not be taken from the 'arts' part of the budget.

    This museum has the potential to really raise awareness of past and current human rights abuses, including what is happening to the basic rights of our northern Aboriginal population.

    It should be interesting to see what progress will be made after the WFP article and Canada's decision to (finally!!) sign the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Perhaps now these people will start being recognized as so and hey, even start be included in Statics Canada (b/c they are not now - giving us a very undeserving score in the world).

    The stadium is supposed to cost over 160 million dollars, right.....

  3. Why is it a right to have running water when you choose to live there as part of your lifestyle. Why not live with modern society and get that Amenity? I admit I don't know anything about the community but if 80 percent of the residents are employed, pay property and income taxes I support it. I feel if you don't put into the pot you can't take from it.

  4. This comment is in response to the “Anonymous” comment of Nov. 17, 2010 @ 7:21 pm.

    Issue one: mobility

    First, the social situation on reserves is unfortunate and dare I say a national shame. People living in these impoverished northern communities that do not have running water and the basic necessities of Canadian society have not “chosen” to live there in the liberal democratic way. The people currently living in these northern reserves are the direct descents of the people that were legislatively forced to live on these reserves. It was Canadian law up until 1960 that a Status Indian could not leave their reserve unless they obtained written permission from the government of Canada. Up until 1960 Aboriginal people were considered wards of the state and had the same rights as an orphaned child under the age of eighteen. They did not have the basic rights of mobility, voting, freedom of religion, and further it was illegal for a Status Indian to hire a lawyer.
    So on that bright sunny day in 1960 (well within the memory of my parents), when Status Indians became Canadian citizens and were fully recognized as people under the law, why did they not make a mass exodus to the large urban centers – where they could enjoy electricity and running water? Could it be that the Provinces refused to admit Aboriginal children in schools – because they were considered under federal jurisdiction? I don’t know about you, but most people I know would not uproot their family to a place where their children could not attend school. Could it also have to do with the rampant racism of the day (and apparently still alive and well), in which many Aboriginal people who did emigrate to urban centers were not able to secure employment or housing. Could it also have having something to do with the resources required in a long cross provincial move? How much do you think it costs to move an entire family across the province, especially if you don’t have a car?
    Further, explain to me why one must choose between living in the community they grew up in, surrounded by family and having running water. Reserves are the creation of the government of Canada. The Aboriginal people did not decide it best to cloister themselves off from other Canadians. This was a choice made by the government and made into law. Therefore as communities made by the government, the government has the responsibility the duty to ensure these communities have the basic necessities and standards of the Canadian society; running water, electricity, etc.

  5. Issue two: employment and taxes

    You wrote:
    I admit I don't know anything about the community but if 80 percent of the residents are employed, pay property and income taxes I support it. I feel if you don't put into the pot you can't take from it.
    In response, this employment issue is intertwined with the mobility issues discussed above because as the reserves are not organic communities that have grown from an economy based community, there is often no economy within many of these reserves. Due to federal and provincial legislation, it is difficult, if not almost impossible for businesses to start up in a reserve. Further, as Status Indians were prevented from borrowing from banks, prior to 1960 had the same rights as an orphaned child; they too could not open businesses and participate in economic development. Further, to this day, all reserve lands are *NOT* owned by Aboriginal people. These lands are owned by the federal government and held in trust for the Aboriginal people. (Due to the ignorance of your original comment I should probably further explain the issues around the law of trusts, fiduciaries and beneficiaries – but it outside the scope of this discussion, so I will just continue). This means Aboriginal people cannot mortgage their homes and land to open businesses to stimulate their economy. When people don’t have running water where do you suppose they will get start up capital for a business? An IPO I suppose?
    So it is hard, if not impossible for both mainstream Canadians and Aboriginal people to open up businesses and create an economy on reserves. Economic development is an important issue and motivation for most Indian bands. Many bands are working on ingenious ways to open up businesses and properly share in the resource development within their territory. But this is beside the point; this issue is for non-Aboriginal Canadians they pay property taxes to cover the costs of infrastructure and amenities, but Aboriginal people too pay taxes and have paid dearly in the creation of this country and where is their water?
    Aboriginal people are under federal jurisdiction. Technically, s. 91(24) of the Constitution Act deems “Indians and Lands Reserved for Indians” under the jurisdiction of Canada. What this means is that where the province and the city is responsible for collecting taxes and building infrastructure and amenities, for reserves this duty goes to the federal government. The money it is suppose to use to make this happen is the money it earns from natural resource development, logging, federal lands, and other activities that would not be possible but for the treaties and Aboriginal participation in confederacy. Like the Supreme Court of Canada said in Delgamuukw v. British Columbia, [1997] 3 S.C.R. 1010, and R. v. Van der Peet, [1996] 2 S.C.R. 507 a special relationship exists between the Crown (government) and the Aboriginal peoples because of the Crown’s assertion of sovereignty over a people that were not conquered and did not surrender. It is because of this special relationship that Aboriginal people have the right to running water on their reserves.

  6. WOW, Shell you sure can prompt a discussion. This is a great topic and one that I am concerned about. Our government needs to step up to that plate and not only get these communities safe running water, but also help to tear down the stereotypes that many people have of Aboriginals and their communities.

  7. I'm happy you can quote relevant court cases but this discussion is a waste if anyone who doesn't support aboriginals is deemed racist. Then there is no discussion and government and aboriginal relationships are kept behind closed doors. Also I feel that these situations aren't analyzed correctly because racism is a hot card to play as a counterpoint. Could any government ever deny an aboriginal lobby group? No

    also why since 1960 has nothing changed? And if I had to uproot my family to get fresh water and modern amenities I would. Wouldn't you?

  8. Re: Anonymous post of November 19, 2010, 2:28pm

    No one has said you are racist.

    Irregardless of the fact the people in question are Aboriginal, the fact is we live in Canada and part of our country’s believe system is that we don’t let people fall between the cracks. As a nation, we strive to provide for everyone and ensure a consistent basic standard of living. That is why in the early 20th Century when Alberta was suffering from unemployment and destitution, the rest of the country pitched in, now Alberta is having a boom and it is the Maritimes that is suffering from unemployment and financial need, but the services like water and electricity – the basics of our Canadian standard of living are still provided. I like to think we live in a country that doesn’t let people fall. If you read the Indian Act, s. 89 states that Aboriginal people do not have to pay provincial taxes for personal property on reserves. That means when they shop or pay for any services off a reserve they too pay the same taxes as the rest of Canada. An Aboriginal person not working on a reserve will have to pay the same provincial income tax as the rest of Canada. Further, Aboriginal people pay the SAME federal tax as all of Canada. So yeah, we pay our taxes. Aboriginal people are not asking the province to provide these basic services, but are calling on the federal government to provide these. This is fair, as this is the level of government with the responsible jurisdiction and the level of government that receives the most taxes.

  9. have you actually looked up how much federal money is put into reserves in Northern Manitoba? have you any idea how that compares to the museum you're complaining about (couching your words with "I don't want to be down on the museum" doesn't change the fact that you've set up an "either/or" debate -- human rights or drinking water on reserve -- as if that's the trade-off -- ie. you can have one, but not both, so please choose.... that's ridiculous