Richard Wagamese writes that Attawapiskat is not an isolated case. There is plenty of blame to go around for the tragedy there and on other native reserves. The problem, he writes, is that the elites -- in Ottawa and at the AFN -- have chosen to look the other way:
The real shame of Attawapiskat is that the people who knew these conditions existed never told Canadians about them. Stephen Harper’s Conservatives knew. Shawn Atleo’s Assembly of First Nations knew. But it has taken a tragedy to reveal the stark truth.
The Harper government's first reaction was -- predictably -- to define the problem in financial terms, and then to seize control of whatever levers were available:
Rather than initiate immediate physical action, Mr. Harper scheduled another meeting with Mr. Atleo. Then he put Attawapiskat under third-party management. What this effectively means is that the government put the blame squarely on the Indians. The subtext is that native leaders mismanaged millions and put their own people in danger. Meantime, nothing was being done for the people freezing in unheated tents, beyond the generosity offered by the Red Cross and fellow Canadians.
It was classic Harper strategy -- point fingers, assign blame and never accept responsibility. Those who have looked at the amount of federal funding for housing at Attawapiskat have pointed out that it is no surprise that people there are living in third world conditions.
But Wagamese writes that Shawn Atleo is also responsible for the tragedy at so many Canadian reserves.
Mr. Atleo failed to show leadership long ago. I’ve been a journalist since 1979, and I know how easy it is to craft a press release, hold a news conference and inform the public. But you have to want to do it. You have to want to confront wrong and demand change. I wonder if having his budget depend on a cozy relationship with the government prevents him from doing that.