The Next City
June 21, 1998
The last immigrants: Aboriginal self-government will likely solve nothing.
Joining Canada’s mainstream will likely solve nothing.
MOST CANADIANS SEE INDIANS ON OUR STREET CORNERS, displaced from their traditional homes and often drunk or unemployed. The hardhearted among us want them run out of town; the kind wish for a just settlement of native land claims to allow these unfortunates to regain their dignity through a return to their traditional ways.
Canadians rarely, if ever, imagine that most Indians — like most of our Chinese, Italian, Pakistani, Jewish, and Somali populations — really belong in our cities, along with the rest of us.
We hear almost nothing about life — and especially politics — on Indian reserves. Reporters seldom venture onto reserves, and if they try to, they may be physically ejected. Unlike the proceedings of elected officials in all other governments in Canada, the meetings of Indian elected officials are often closed; sometimes they’re held off the reserve, sometimes, even, in foreign countries. Only rarely — such as when a reserve is in crisis, and one faction resorts to the media — will the public get insightful information about political life on Indian reserves. That’s been happening for the last year with the Stoney Nation west of Calgary.
The three bands that constitute the Stoneys, a branch of the Assiniboine or Sioux people, are governed by their three chiefs plus a council of 12 members, elected every two years. Their population of about 3,300 lives on three reserves in the foothills of the Rockies. By far the biggest, about 100,000 acres, is the Morley reserve on the highway to Banff just 50 miles west of Calgary.
Morley sits on several pools of natural gas, providing the bands with annual royalties of about $13 million. In the past, royalties were even higher, as much as three times higher. By one estimate, the bands had earned $300 million from natural gas in the last decade. The Stoneys also receive about $23 million a year in federal transfers, mostly from the Department of Indian Affairs. Adding in receipts from band-operated businesses, the Stoneys now bring in about $50 million, roughly $16,000 for each man, woman, and child, or roughly $80,000 for a family of five, most of it tax-free. That astonishing amount of money, far above anyone’s definition of the poverty line, surpasses the mean income of Canadian families. With this much money coming in, Stoneys should be well off.
But money hasn’t brought happiness. The Stoneys, despite their collective affluence, are a community in crisis. The first public indication of dysfunction came in 1994, when an orgy of clear-cutting on the forested parts of the Morley reserve decimated 20 per cent of its pine and spruce in a matter of months. In an apparent bid for votes in that election year, the band council stood aside and encouraged families, which exercise loosely defined customary rights over land and timber, to cut their own deals with off-reserve loggers, who then shipped the wood to British Columbia for milling. The Department of Indian Affairs stepped in to stop the pillage in early 1995, leaving the land littered with logging slash and unsold fallen timber, and the courts clogged with a welter of lawsuits, all initiated by the Stoney Council. Alleging illegal sales and broken contracts, the council is suing various band members and logging companies; incredibly, it is also suing the Department of Indian Affairs for failing to manage the timber resources properly.
Things then went from bad to worse. In 1997, because the band — despite its revenues — had somehow run up a deficit of $5.6 million in the previous year, the federal government appointed one accounting firm as the financial trustee for the band and hired another to carry out a forensic audit. While the audit drags on, rebellious band members, who deplore the government they’re saddled with, leak fascinating bits of information to the outside world:
- The three chiefs received more than $450,000 in 1997. A chief’s basic salary is $46,000, but each gets additional payments, for attending meetings and serving on committees, as well as generous expense accounts. Again, all this is tax-free.
- When Chief John Snow, who had been in office from 1968 to 1992, was re-elected in 1996, he quickly fired 39 band employees and hired 4 of his children in senior jobs.
- Another chief, Philomene Stevens, on welfare prior to her election, reportedly continued to receive welfare cheques after being elected. She, too, hired relatives and put them to work in the welfare department. After the reserve went into trusteeship, her relatives were fired, allegedly for also receiving welfare payments.
- Chief Stevens chose Phoenix, Arizona, to hold a budget meeting attended by a dozen band members, including several from her immediate family.
- In early 1998, the province had to take over child protection on the reserve because Stoney welfare workers weren’t coming to work. A provincial spokesman said child welfare had been “off the rails” ever since the tribe took control of it in the early 1990s.
Meanwhile, other social indicators are dreadful. Nineteen ninety-seven saw 12 unnatural deaths by suicide, accident, violent crime, or drug overdose. Two-thirds of the residents are said to be on welfare (although, given the lax administration, some welfare recipients may also hold jobs with the band). A sympathetic doctor in nearby Cochrane, who treats many Stoneys in her practice, has tried to set up a food bank to alleviate what she considers serious malnutrition. “We need cash for bannock,” she told a reporter. But Chief Snow’s wife is not so softhearted. “All they want is bingo money. They are not really starving,” she told reporters while her husband received treatment in a Calgary hospital cardiology ward. In February, four buildings, including the Morley community centre, were burned to the ground in one night of arson; the damage to the community centre was estimated at $350,000.
How typical is the Stoney mess? With 608 Indian bands in Canada, situations vary widely. British Columbia’s Sechelt Nation — which suspended claims to inherent rights, accepts self-government within the existing constitution, and welcomes white-owned businesses within its boundaries — reportedly prospers. But despite pockets of good news, the Stoney situation is unusual only in its extreme concentration of bad news. Financial mismanagement is commonplace; 28 per cent of reserves have now run up such large deficits that — using powers in the Indian Act — the Department of Indian Affairs has forced them into remedial management agreements.
Almost daily, the media covers aboriginal social pathologies of welfare dependency, crime, and drug abuse. Their political pathologies — corruption, factionalism, and nepotism — are less widely reported but well known to all who have studied native politics or personally experienced life on Indian reserves. Here are two other recent examples of political pathology from Alberta:
- Jane Stewart, the Minister of Indian Affairs, invited Indians to write to her office in confidence about wrongdoing on their reserves. Bruce Starlight, a resident of the Tsuu T’ina (Sarcee) reserve near Calgary and a former member of the band council, took up her offer, alleging in his letter financial improprieties on the part of Chief Roy Whitney, a Liberal candidate for MP in the 1993 election. His confidential letter was leaked to the band council. Whitney sued Starlight, and the council is now paying Whitney’s legal bills. After considerable delay, the minister expressed regret that her office had not kept the letter confidential and offered to help Starlight with his legal bills. To add to the impropriety, the band is a regular contributor to the Liberal Party of Canada, donating $19,000 in the years 1993-96.
- The Samson Cree band near Hobbema is one of Canada’s wealthiest, with over $400 million, accumulated from oil and gas royalties, and potentially billions more if it convinces the courts that the federal Crown mismanaged its resources and defaulted on treaty obligations. In August 1997, concerned band members, demanding an external investigation of band finances, occupied band offices for five days to push their claim that the chief and band council were improperly using band money for themselves and their relatives. “The chief’s daughter runs social services. The chief’s daughter determines who gets the cheque,” said one protester, who also claimed to have been fired from his job on the reserve after he started his public protests. Six hundred of the band’s 4,300 members signed a petition calling for an investigation. As of this writing, no investigation has commenced, but in March 1998, the RCMP announced a criminal investigation of financial administration on the neighboring Ermineskin reserve, which is also well endowed with oil revenue.
Today’s conventional wisdom, summarized at enormous length in the 1996 Report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, attributes all these social and political pathologies to a history of colonialism at the hands of the white man, and it sees their solution in the white man respecting aboriginal peoples’ inherent right to self-government. Numerous injustices, without doubt, have occurred. But believing that aboriginal self-government will solve much, if anything, is a pipe dream because it is beset with serious — probably fatal — problems. I do not refer to the lofty constitutional questions involved: Is the right of aboriginal self-government inherent or contingent? Should an aboriginal order of government be entrenched in the constitution as a third layer in the federal system? Can effective non-territorial governments be created for those who do not live on the aboriginal land base? I refer to problems with self-government at the community level, which most skeptics over these constitutional questions usually see as an unalloyed blessing.
ACCORDING TO MENNO BOLDT, A UNIVERSITY OF LETHBRIDGE SOCIOLOGIST and author of an important book on aboriginal government, “Indian leaders tend to view self-government in terms of taking over the [governmental] authority and structures on their reserves.” But a mere change of personnel, he believes “is no guarantee that the entrenched norms of paternalism, authoritarianism, self-interest, and self-aggrandizement by office-holders will be eliminated.” If self-government is worth having, he argues, Indians need to jettison the institutions imposed under the Indian Act and need to revive their communal heritage.
Boldt understands the problem but advocates a utopian solution. Although early Indian societies had no written laws, bureaucracies, elections, courts, police, and other formal institutions of modern states, their informal approach of yesteryear will satisfy neither them nor other Canadians today. Aboriginals are not primitive, fantasyland people who can be segregated in idyllic habitats, where the deer and the antelope roam. Aboriginals are integrated into our industrial society. They are literate and educated, own property (even if property rights on reserves are poorly specified), work for wages and salaries, supply their needs through transactions in the market rather than self-provision, and deal with state agencies in a multitude of ways.
On Indian reserves, elected chiefs and band councils collectively exercise the authority once exercised by the federal government’s Indian agents and will do so as long as reserves remain political systems. State institutions are here to stay, for aboriginals as well as for everyone else. In itself, this does not doom aboriginal self-government as unworkable or harmful; it does mean that aboriginal government, where it arises, will resemble other forms of government. But aboriginal self-government will rarely work well in practice. Not because of the nature of native people but because of the nature of people.
NATIVE COMMUNITIES ARE TOO SMALL TO SUSTAIN A FUNCTIONING DEMOCRATIC society. Canada’s 608 bands have about 610,000 registered Indians. About 70 per cent of the bands have under 1,000 people, and only 10 per cent have over 2,000. Even these already tiny figures give a misleading impression because about 42 per cent of registered Indians live off the reserve. How can a community of a few hundred people located far from major population centres provide the amenities of modern life — everything from schools to snowplowing — that Indians now demand?
Some argue that small communities can work together to provide services otherwise beyond their means. Others that aboriginal governments can contract with nearby cities or rural municipalities, or with the provincial government, for government services. In some cases, workable solutions will no doubt arise, particularly for culturally neutral services, such as sewage disposal and highway maintenance. But for other services, such as policing, child protection, and education, such approaches miss the mark, since many tribes, if not most, who would work through a multitribal consortium would find that their traditions and cultures would need to bend. So, too, through a cooperation with non-aboriginal governments in culturally sensitive fields.
Small native communities would also fail to retain the skilled personnel needed to deliver these amenities. Aboriginals are becoming highly educated; their postsecondary enrolment rate is now 6.5 per cent of persons aged 17 to 34, not that far behind the Canadian rate of 10.4 per cent for that age. Aboriginals with advanced education have attractive opportunities off the reserve, leading many to exercise their preference and work in Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto, Ottawa, and other major centres rather than return to their childhood homes, even though they may remain band members. With the cream of Indian society heading for the cities, the dream of aboriginal government would often amount to native elected officials and to non-native administrators, accountants, and other professionals. Whether that amounts to self-government is a rhetorical question with no simple answer, but it illustrates a problem unlikely to go away in our lifetime.
More fundamental to the problem of size than delivering amenities is delivering good government. In his famous 10th essay in The Federalist, James Madison argued that representative government suits larger societies — smaller communities tend to be socially and economically homogeneous, enabling a majority faction to take control and exploit others. Madison’s answer is the extended republic: “Extend the sphere, and you take in a greater variety of parties and interests: you make it less probable that a majority of the whole have a common motive to invade the rights of other citizens.”
From the federal government’s landmark Hawthorn Report of 1966-67 onward, empirical studies have documented how family-based factionalism dominates native politics. In field work at a large Manitoba Saulteaux reserve in the 1970s, an anthropologist found about 25 informal “bunches,” each with membership of about 5 to 10, and a varying number of followers. Kinship determined the composition of these bunches, and band members saw the distribution of the Department of Indian Affairs benefits as the main purpose of politics. A study of the Okanagan Nation in the 1980s discovered that “in the absence of formal political parties there are informal campaigns [for chief] involving kin and friendship networks.” A public-opinion survey on two of the Alberta Métis settlements found large majorities agreeing with the proposition that “if you’re looking for something like a job on the settlement or a new house, it helps to be related to a council member.” In research on the Blood and Peigan reserves in Alberta, a political scientist found that extended kin groups “run slates of candidates during each election. Sponsorship of candidates usually occurs in informal kin group caucuses, where decisions are made as to who should run for council or the chieftainship.” These kinship-sponsored candidates were motivated by the prospect of economic gain for themselves and their relatives.
Strater Crowfoot, chief of the Siksika (Blackfoot) Nation for eight years, confirms that the family is “a pivotal unit in reserve politics,” calling nepotism its “sustaining discourse.” People not only act according to the incentives of nepotism, they openly discuss band politics in those terms. Relatives routinely approach those in power for financial assistance. Opposing factions interpret all decisions in nepotistic terms and plan to act the same way when they come to power. “After the election where I was defeated,” writes Crowfoot, “one voter said: ‘The Crowfoots are no longer in charge; it’s my family’s turn.'”
Religion is another source of faction, with lines drawn between Christians and traditionalists, or between different Christian denominations. On one northern Ontario reserve, Anglicans moved to a new location en masse, leaving Roman Catholics behind. Religion, of course, interweaves tightly with kinship, as does place of residence, which counts where a large reserve has multiple nodes of settlement, or where a band or tribe occupies several reserves. Economic lines of cleavage on reserves also exist between those who control property rights over housing, land, and natural resources and those who are shut out. Kinship counts here, too, with customary property rights passed on through inheritance from generation to generation.
As native people become well educated and well paid, they create another class cleavage — between haves and have-nots. These haves have become citified. Even the activists in the native political movement, unless they are band chiefs, tend to live in major cities, where they work as lawyers, professors, administrators, and consultants. This urban native middle class, though it remains involved in local band politics, can’t help but adopt a different world view over time.
None of this is to say that native politics is more factional than Canadian politics generally. All politics is factional. But whereas Canada’s factionalism operates on a large scale and in a formalized way, with competition pervading diverse linguistic, regional, and economic organizations, native factionalism operates on a small scale and in an informal way, with competition limited to kin groups and friendship networks. This family style of politics ushers in patronage, nepotism, and outright corruption by the majority factions.
Some constitutional experts believe that the Charter of Rights and Freedoms will protect minority rights in native communities. In practice, however, the Charter can’t help much because it does not protect property, and favoritism in a native community typically involves property — nepotistic hiring practices, misuse of expense accounts, denial of housing or welfare, reassignment of property rights in land or timber. Aboriginals under the thumb of the majority faction would have normal recourse to the Canadian courts, but because the legal system is so expensive to use, this recourse would ordinarily be meaningless. In most cases, the only remedy available to the losers in factional fights — and the one they’ve been taking in droves — is moving off the reserve.
WOULD-BE ABORIGINAL GOVERNMENTS EXPECT TO COVER A GREAT DEAL OF ground. Even some of the more modest plans, such as the one by Queen’s political scientist C.E.S. Franks, list six broad categories:
1. Cultural preservation — the maintenance of traditional lifestyle, language, and culture
2. Cultural adaptation — assisting a culture and community to change so that it and the individuals within it can interact effectively with the economy and lifestyle of the non-native society
3. Service delivery — the economic and effective provision to the community, in a form adapted to and suitable to its needs and circumstances, of services such as health, welfare, education, justice
4. Economic development — the active involvement of the self-governing unit in projects and activities that improve the well-being of individuals and the community
5. Resources and environmental management — native populations who maintain a traditional lifestyle will need some control over the resources of their land base.
6. Law enforcement — the relationship of the native peoples to the law and the judicial system is a major issue at present and will continue to be for most self-governing units.
This list combines functions that, for the rest of the country, take all three levels of Canadian government to fulfil, and it includes some that no Canadian government undertakes. Aboriginal governments, with their small size, limited resources, and shortage of skilled personnel, have no hope of handling so ambitious an agenda, at least not without much suffering. In a Manitoba experiment that gave five Indian agencies responsibility over the welfare of Indian children, the number of children in care soared even though it fell in all other provinces. Reported incidents of sexual and physical abuse multiplied once children were placed in Indian foster homes. Finally, the suicide of a 13-year-old boy forced a judicial inquiry followed by a legislative inquiry. Of course, aboriginal self-government may sometimes succeed where senior governments have failed. Nonetheless, the practical difficulties at the ground level will be enormous, no matter what deals are struck at the symbolic level of constitutional politics.
To further complicate matters, the impossibly wide scope of aboriginal government would have chiefs and band councils control, or strongly influence, education, welfare, and health care, as well as the usual service functions of local governments. In the wider Canadian system, these functions would be parcelled out to numerous public bodies — federal and provincial departments, regulatory commissions, courts, city councils, school boards, police commissions, hospital boards, and regional health authorities. While aboriginal government is not devoid of such bodies, band councils have more political authority than any entity in the outside world. This concentration of authority lets a small group of officials direct large volumes of money passing through the community, making the potential rewards of holding office in an aboriginal government far larger than for, say, a city councillor, a mayor of a small town, or a reeve of a municipal township. Band chiefs and councillors more easily appoint their relatives and supporters to jobs, sign contracts with well-connected businesses, and manipulate the assignment of property rights.
TO THICKEN THE QUICKSAND OF ABORIGINAL SELF-GOVERNMENT, native society lacks an institution fundamental to democracies: taxation. The Indian Act exempts land and personal property on Indian reserves from taxation. In 1985, band councils received the power to levy property taxes on the reserve; but in practice, they mainly tax non-Indians who, through lease or other arrangement, occupy reserve property. Indians on reserves do not generally tax themselves and are not taxed by any other government. Instead, Indian bands depend on federal government moneys, not just from the Department of Indian Affairs, but also from other departments; in all, the combined spending on status Indians and Inuit exceeds $6 billion a year.
Band governments also raise revenue by running businesses, both long-standing, traditional enterprises such as farming, ranching, and lumbering and new ventures such as shopping malls, golf courses, housing developments, gambling casinos, hotels, and financial institutions. Businesses typically provide a cash flow and jobs but not always profits: Many rely on revenues from government programs, land claims settlements, or oil and gas royalties.
Fiscal transfers, land claims settlements, and natural resource rents have a common characteristic — they are not earned in the usual sense of the term by working for an employer or by investing one’s own property. Natural resource rents flow from the good luck of sitting atop a hydrocarbon reservoir. While band members watch, the energy companies negotiate a deal through Indian Oil and Gas Canada (a division of the Department of Indian Affairs), explore the reserve, build pipeline connectors, pump out the oil and gas, and pay royalties. For most people in the community, the money might as well have come from Ottawa because no one needs to work for it.
This external, unearned funding heightens factional politics, as research on so-called rentier states in the Third World, particularly oil rich gulf sheikdoms in the Middle East, illuminates. In the rentier state, the government redistributes external income through grants to citizens, contracts with privileged businesses, and state employment. “The whole economy,” writes one authority, “is arranged as a hierarchy of layers of rentiers with the state or the government at the top of the pyramid, acting as the ultimate support of all other rentiers in the economy.” The result is an allocation state, “an état providence, distributing favors and benefits to its population.”
In rentier states, parties jockey to get favors from those in power. Democracy and the rule of law can’t take hold because citizens, not having to pay for the government, do not take ownership of it. The population develops a rentier mentality in which reward rests on chance and situation rather than work and risk. The rentier state describes the political economy of Canadian native communities.
Many Indian spokesmen view immunity from taxation as a boon — an aboriginal right, or a treaty right, or, as one writer calls it, “a fundamental component of the special relationship” between native peoples and the Crown. Canadian taxpayers are unlikely to accept this forever, and Indians, themselves, must recognize that there is no real representation without taxation. Even the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples recommended that members of self-governing native communities should pay taxes to their own governments, though not to the federal or provincial governments.
Aboriginal taxation, in any degree, should be encouraged as a step toward more open and accountable government. Nonetheless, all who have seriously studied self-government agree that, even if aboriginal governments fully taxed their constituents, they would overwhelmingly depend on federal transfers, supplemented by resource revenues and occasional land claims settlements. Aboriginals demand that most, if not all, fiscal transfers come in unconditional grants; if granted, they would only intensify the aboriginal rentier state. Indian band councils already receive 80 per cent of the Department of Indian Affairs transfers for self-administration. The Auditor General laments the lack of accountability for expenditures, both to local native communities and to Parliament.
BECAUSE NONE OF THIS WILL CHANGE IN THE FORESEEABLE FUTURE — native communities will continue to be small, impoverished, factional, supported by fiscal transfers, and governed by elected chiefs and councils trying to carry out an impossibly wide range of functions — the federal government must assess its options. As long as it remains responsible for Indian affairs, simply transferring more money and power to local aboriginal governments would only increase the abuses.
Some helpful steps are being taken. The University of Victoria runs a special program to train Indians in local public administration. The Banff Centre for Management sponsors an aboriginal leadership and self-government program. Embarrassed by bad publicity, the Assembly of First Nations and the Department of Indian Affairs are trying to improve accountability in financial administration, and the AFN recently signed an agreement with the Certified General Accountants Association to improve training and standards of practice on reserves.
The single most constructive reform would be for the members of native communities to begin taxing themselves, to give them a greater stake in the doings of their own governments. No negotiations, no constitutional amendment, no legislation would be required to take this step; the power already lies in the Indian Act. In most cases, though only small amounts of money would be raised, greater political accountability would grow at the local level.
More accountable band governments might confront some of the human tragedies of native governance. While housing for aboriginals is in chronically short supply, many reserves are littered with abandoned and derelict homes. Although many prairie reserves are blessed with good agricultural land, the Indians themselves rarely farm it; instead, the bands rent it to neighboring farmers and ranchers. The authority to deal with these problems — many stemming from a rigid system of inheritance that creates uneconomically small landholdings — already lies with band governments.
Indian band governments can learn, too, from the so-called Harvard Project in the United States. Those researchers studied a wide variety of tribal governments and their correlations with successes or failures in promoting economic development. Successful tribal governments, they found, tended to separate powers, with an independent judiciary and a strong chief executive elected for a term longer than two years and not dependent on the band council. The Harvard Project also found that successful tribal governments maintained a stable regime of property rights to encourage investment and kept elected politicians away from day-to-day involvement in business enterprises. All valuable lessons for Canada.
The American situation only applies so far because a third of their 554 recognized tribes now operate gambling casinos, some of which are fabulously profitable. Yet unemployment in “Indian Country,” as the Americans call it, exceeds 30 per cent, compared with less than 5 per cent in the overall population, and the average Indian income is well below American norms. Indian rates of alcoholism, suicide, and child abuse exceed that of any other American ethnic group.
Canada badly needs a comparative study of different native communities, to let the government, the communities themselves, and the public at large find out why some of our reserves do so much better than others. And we should also study how Indians do off the reserve, because the great weight of evidence to date indicates nothing would better serve our Indian population than to integrate with Canadian society as a whole.
THIS INTEGRATION IS WELL UNDERWAY. FORTY-TWO PER CENT OF registered Indians live off the reserve; that percentage has been increasing for decades and will soon exceed 50 per cent. And that is just registered Indians. There are additional hundreds of thousands, even millions of people (no one is sure how many) of part Indian ancestry who call themselves Métis, non-status Indians, or just Canadians. Registered Indians living on reserves are a steadily decreasing minority of the entire native population.
As more and more native people join Canada’s mainstream, is there any way of ending the dysfunctional reserve system? Frankly, I doubt it. Both the United States and Canada have tried various schemes of allotting reserve land and enfranchising individual Indians, with little success. Now, due to provisions in the Constitution Act of 1982 that constitutionalized aboriginal and treaty rights, it is both politically and legally impossible to convert status Indians into ordinary Canadian citizens by simply dividing up reserves into individually owned parcels of land, repealing the Indian Act, and abolishing the Department of Indian Affairs. Even if it were possible, it would be neither wise nor just because Canada, through the treaty and reserve system, has encouraged the survival of native communities as collective entities for more than a century.
The movement toward self-government will continue. Although many rank-and-file Indians may be indifferent to it, Canada’s political elite accepts it, and it represents the unanimous demand of the native political class, whose interests it serves: They administer the reserves, litigate and negotiate with government, and increasingly fill civil service positions in the Department of Indian Affairs and other agencies that deal with native communities. They are directly rewarded by obtaining ever increasing transfers of public money with ever diminishing controls over its use.
Meanwhile, living conditions on most reserves will continue to stagnate and even deteriorate for those outside the power structure. Population growth intensifies the shortage of jobs, housing, and other amenities, so that more and more native people will seek new lives in Canadian cities. In spite of the rhetoric of self-government, the reserves will grow less and less relevant to a majority of native people in Canada. Indians will become, in effect, a new immigrant ethnic group in our already pluralistic societies. Their places of origin will be geographically closer than Hong Kong or the Punjab, but their social distance from the world of the reserves may be greater.
Under the circumstances, Canadians should put ambitious reforms for reserves aside while these long-term processes have time to work. Help the reserves run as honestly and efficiently as possible, but don’t flood them with even more money, which will encourage further unsustainable growth in the number of residents. I leave the last word to Stoney Nation councillor Tina Fox, commenting on cuts to social services required to balance the budget: “We may have to encourage our young to work off the reserve.”
Would that be such a bad thing? The Morley reserve sits in the middle of one of the most dynamic areas of the Canadian economy. Fifty kilometres to the east lies the perpetual boom town of Calgary. Thirty years ago, 330,000 people lived in Calgary; now it has over 800,000, one-sixth of them visible minorities, and an unemployment rate less than 6 per cent. Fifty kilometres to the west of the reserve lies Banff, with its chronic labor shortage. Young people go there from all over the world and find jobs immediately.
Other Canadian cities offer members of other Indian bands opportunities. While they haven’t found city streets paved with gold — Indians are the most disadvantaged of all Canadians — many have succeeded mightily, particularly when compared with the fate of Indians who remained on the reserve. An Indian who has left the reserve is four times as likely to earn $40,000 or more and almost half as likely to be on welfare.
Since about 1980, Indians have begun to call themselves the “First Nations,” to embody their claim to an aboriginal right of self-government. Yet they were also the first immigrants because their ancestors, like the ancestors of everyone else in North America, moved here from the Old World. Now they are en route to becoming the last immigrants, the latest group to take advantage of the opportunities that Canadian society offers.