We can buy a goat

One of the more satisfying elements of parenting is hearing how easily kids can simplify the world’s problems.

The twins’ latest foray into the world of international politics was to suggest at the dinner table our family should buy a goat for a family in Africa.

They had attended We Day with their class and came away with a greater sense of the struggles elsewhere around the globe. It is good for young people to gain a better sense of empathy for others, living as we do in a land of plenty. The enthusiasm generated by those rallies is quite apparent and while there is merit in doing more for the Third World and helping others, we felt duty bound to discuss an issue in our own back yard.

Recent revelations that yet another native community in the Canadian north is in trouble became part of our conversation. Like most kids at the age of 12, they were not too familiar with the Attawapiskat First Nation or the countless other communities living here in substandard conditions.

A failed sewage system in that community has threatened the health of its residents for the past two years. Like most other native communities in the north, good sanitary services are a serious issue, as are access to safe housing and schools. For Attawapiskat, families with young children inhabit sheds and tents without proper heat or running water. With winter getting in full swing, the acuteness of the situation grows by the hour.

We cannot help but recall other desperate situations in recent years where suicide and drug use pervaded certain outlying native communities. Little has been said on those fronts recently, leaving us to wonder if the problem subsided, or if the media covering the story and agencies involved moved on to something else. The silence on much of that is deafening.

As seems to be commonplace on websites encouraging reader opinions, much of the comments relate to, shall we say, a white man’s view of the native “problem.” Squandered money, dubious local governance, crooked chiefs and a general disdain for native activism drown out any comment suggesting a hint of responsibility on the part of the federal government. Cut off the gravy some suggested. Some gravy.

In tune with that type of thinking, Canada’s government sent in a third party manager to get the community back on track and to determine where $90 million in funding had gone in the past five years. Understandably, but not wisely in our opinion, that manager was sent packing. On the heels of that move, the Assembly of First Nations passed a motion asking for a United Nations investigation into the federal government’s dealings with that community. How about the kids, how about the tents for shelter, how about basic health needs, what’s going to happen now?

Since the story broke, former Prime Minister Paul Martin commented on his failed Kelowna Accord, which was his model for getting native communities into a more sustainable situation. That accord was the result of consultation at the First Ministers Conference on Aboriginal Affairs in 2005. It spoke to providing a $5-billion, five-year plan for getting native communities into better shape. After Martin’s government fell, the federal government lapsed into its old pattern of simply paying bills, rather than dealing with root problems in such communities.

We need a mature discussion in this country on the future of such communities and to develop a funding model that is sustainable. Perhaps it’s time the discussion includes integration if the viability of such communities are in question.

Goats might be a nice idea, but Canadians have quite a bit of work to do in their own backyard when it comes to the abject poverty – none more evident than that foisted upon our native population.