Sunday, May 15, 2016

Attawapiskat and Fort McMurray

A friend asked me to blog about this article.  It's worth the read. I'll be here when you get back.

In case you don't take the time to read it, the author (Nick Fillmore) asks "The question arises: Why are billions of dollars being pumped in to deal with one crisis while the other is all but being ignored?"

Good question.

I'm going to noodle my way through my thoughts here and find out what I think. I don't intend to be pejorative or racist, but lots of people say things they don't realize are racist. Feel free to call me out.

Lets start with the people that were here first. There are lots of racist or patronizing ways of referring to these peoples, and some of them prefer one term over another. Who am I to choose between them? I completely realize there are many different peoples from coast to coast to coast, with different concerns, and it's a mistake to treat them as a singular people. So for the purposes of this blog just to simplify the writing I'm going to say FPH and that stands for First Peoples Here. It's not intended to simplify the issues.

Next are the peoples that came here later. As far as we know it starts with the Norse about 1000 AD, and we don't really know what impact that had on FPH society. About 1500 AD Europeans started showing up, mainly for cod, but soon were tempted by all that land. Lots of different peoples involved here too, but lets just say Europeans.

One could easily argue that the next 500 years have been catastrophic to the point of near fatality for the FPH overall, and nearly all of it was done to FPH by Europeans. Sometimes with malice aforethought, sometimes without any care for the consequences to FPH, sometimes with noble words and dirty deeds, and one can argue about the extent to which it's still going on now. No rational person could argue that it's not still happening, regardless of the intentions of the people involved.

So, a complicated scene set in three paragraphs. So far so good. Me? A descendant of European background. Back to the question.

At the root I think it comes down to how we deal with issues.  European descended society sees a problem like Fort McMurray, and we see a solution, and much of the path to the solution. Prevent the fires in the first place, limit the damage as much as possible, clean up the mess, make sure it's safe, settle insurance claims, rebuild and carry on. I don't mean to make it sound simple. It's an enormously difficult logistical problem complicated in Fort McMurray's case by the limited road access, but the point is that it's an UNDERSTOOD problem. We can work with it. We've done it before. We can break it into pieces and assign people with the relevant expertise.

European descended society sees Attawapiskat, and doesn't have a clue what actions to take. Nobody knows what a  solution looks like, and even if the current Canadian government could articulate it, it would simply become one more case of European society doing it to the FPH all over again.  Even dealing with parts of the problem doesn't seem to get us anywhere because it's an integrated whole. Trying to solve it piecemeal without some idea of the overall solution does not sound promising.

Mr. Fillmore suggests in his article we airlift prefab homes to Attawapiskat. Fair enough and housing is a huge problem, but why are so many of the homes uninhabitable in the first place? Presumably they were prefab homes too. Were the materials or design inadequate for the climate? Were they not assembled correctly or maintained properly? Doing more of the same isn't going to get us anywhere.

The Attawapiskat airport runway is 3,495 feet or 1065 m long, and it's gravel. Both the CC-130J and C-17 can fly into and out of that, but I'm not sure how much cargo can be carried and still have gas to get back to base. So the capacity is there. It's what we put in the plane that counts. Or we could plan really really well, and send in some huge barges during the summer.

There is a suggestion that we staff the hospital at double or triple the current levels. That's easy to say.  It's harder to find the trained staff willing to go there. It can easily be seen as building a dependency on those flown in staff. How long do they stay for? How do we know when the emergency is over and normal (whatever that means) staffing levels apply? Is it feasible to train some of the people that already live there in the skills required?

For 500 years European society has been doing stuff to FPH. Even if we're trying to help, isn't it just another case of us doing stuff to them? Where is the line between "helping" and "doing it to them again?" At what point does FPH have to step up and do things for themselves? What if European society doesn't think that's the right thing? Is aid conditional?

So many questions and so few answers. So much distrust and it's easy to see why. As a business analyst one of my roles is to help people in a business understand what the gaps are between where they are now and some desired state, whether that's new software, a business reorg, an acquisition or divestiture, or whatever.  Once the as-is and to-be states are figured out, and the gaps identified, it's much easier to work out the actions that will address the gaps.

The really hard part is articulating the desired end state and getting buy in or acceptance. That's where we are with FPH.  Once you have that you can discover or create the steps that will lead you closer. What are some possible end states? In no particular order:

  • Complete integration with European society. That's one of the ideas that got us into this mess. Isn't going to happen.
  • True First Nations, in the European sense of the word. A FPH group would have complete autonomy over some specified block of land. Defining that block of land could be difficult, and that's just with different FPH groups arguing about it. At one time I looked and the various land claims in BC added up to more territory than there was to share. What if that block of land has a city on it, say Vancouver? How do we get to a point (and this is going to sound racist) where the local group is ready to take (or renew) control over a block of land? Do we just turn it over, and introduce them to the United Nations and support their claim for membership? I have difficulty thinking that a group of a few hundred or thousand are going to be granted admittance. What of the relationship to Canada? Do we provide ongoing support, or are they a free and independent nation able to provide for themselves under most circumstances? How do we work out a transition strategy?
  • Some form of local government. Would it really be so difficult to declare that a particular group of FPH are a municipality, with powers similar to that of other cities and towns? How much supervision, if any, is imposed on them? How do we deal with the transition? I know there have been some scuffling between some FPH groups and the Harper government asking them to account for money given them. Their position was that it's their money, and they don't need to account for it. I beg to differ. Consider the source. The money raised from some kind of internal taxation, or industry revenue is theirs, no question. My personal opinion is that this is the most promising road.
  • An outgrowth of the current "reserve" (a word that makes my teeth hurt) system, where the rules are different. Encourage local industries with favourable tax treatment. There are some FPH groups in the Okanagan valley that have done very well for themselves, owning wineries, a destination resort, golf course, campgrounds, and other companies. I have with my own ears heard FPH people call them sellouts. Maybe there's some work to be done on that.

Of course it's possible to shower Attiwapiskat with material goods. Fillmore suggests "computers, new bicycles, dolls", but I think I'd put a package water treatment plant ahead of those, together with training on how to run and maintain it. Lets do all of that, and lots of other stuff besides, such as school supplies, and medical equipment. Package it all up in those bulk containers, and then turn the containers into housing, schools, or a medical building, whatever is needed. It might not be pretty, but those containers are indestructible, and have been used for homes elsewhere.

Then do it again, and again, till you get around to all 600 some of the FPH groups in Canada, doing the analysis to provide what they need, and not supply what they already have, or don't need, with some sort of priority order figured out. If that's the solution, then we can start putting it together. Moving material goods around is straightforward. Figuring out what is needed, where, is a bit more difficult. Getting the decisions made might be the hardest part, given the seemingly intractable overlapping bureaucracies involved.

What's missing? Life is more than material goods. Part of the problem is that many FPH groups had their cultural heart ripped out of them through the residential school system and other factors. In some ways I think this is the most important piece of all. Without a culture that tells you your place in the world, that teaches you what to value, that gives a reason for your language, that provides a context for your relationships with your family, you are lost. No material goods can replace this.

This is the part that FPH have to deal with themselves. They are the only ones that can rediscover or recreate or create anew a culture that is theirs. Some of this has been happening, and I applaud their efforts, but I'd like to understand what we as European descendants can do, without being patronizing or in the way, to support or help.

How the FPH have been treated is Canada's biggest and most enduring shame. I don't think anybody likes it the way it is, other than the people profiting from the conflict. I'd like to believe most Canadians want to see things improve, and are willing to support activities leading to that. But the devil is in the details. What activities? How paid for? Who first? What about corruption? What changes to the justice system are needed? Who leads these efforts? What is the process? So many questions.

1 comment:

  1. A thoughtful reflection on the challenges, Keith, and I like where you end up. We don't have all the answers but that shouldn't stop us from stepping up to help when and where we can, while continuing to discuss and learn and help until things finally change for the better. Have a great week!


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