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Canada’s Indigenous Model is Not Sustainable


11 minute read

From the Frontier Centre for Public Policy

By Brian Giesbrecht

The stated purpose of the extra indigenous spending that has always been there, and the virtual explosion on indigenous spending since 2015 is meant to fix that problem. But these massive expenditures have now reached the point where they risk destabilizing the country.

Canada’s parliamentary budget officer, Yves Giroux has spoken out about the alarming rise in Canada’s contingent liabilities related to indigenous claims. Todays estimated 76 billion dollars is many times the 15 billion dollars it was when the Liberals took power in 2015.

This is one part only of the massive increase in spending on indigenous matters that has taken place since then.

Federal spending per indigenous person has always been much higher than spending per non-indigenous person. The higher level of spending has been justified because most indigenous people do much worse on virtually every health and social indicator than the mainstream population. Their health is poorer, and their lives are shorter.

This disparity was generally known as Canada’s “Indian problem”. That term is no longer fashionable, and the extra spending is now said to be necessary to achieve “reconciliation”. Regardless of the terms, what is clear is that since Confederation there has always existed a large rural and urban indigenous underclass that does poorly compared to the mainstream. The stated purpose of the extra indigenous spending that has always been there, and the virtual explosion on indigenous spending since 2015 is meant to fix that problem. But these massive expenditures have now reached the point where they risk destabilizing the country.

Perhaps it’s time for Canadians to ask if the “nation to nation” reconciliation plan that spending is based on is working. Is it fixing the problem?

A recent CBC report proves that it is not. Instead, the problems are getting worse.

The CBC investigated an indigenous community at St. Theresa Point where 24 people sometime share one house. Almost all of the houses in the community are crumbling and need to be replaced. Families struggle to achieve basic hygiene. Living conditions resemble what one would expect to find in a third world community, and not in wealthy, modern Canada.

St. Theresa Point is typical of hundreds of other Indian remote reserves. Most are almost totally dependent on the federal government for their survival. There is virtually no real employment. The poorest people in those communities are directly dependent on welfare checks, but even the chief, councillors and other employees receive their paycheques from the transfer payments sent by Ottawa. In reality almost everyone in the community is on welfare of some type.

Unlike in other rural communities, people on poor reserves tend not to move when economic opportunities decline. In small-town Canada, the rules are simple: If the towns or farms can’t supply enough jobs, one moves to the city where the jobs and careers are. But on remote reserves, most people stay put, even if there are no jobs or careers there for them. And most of those who do move to the city do not do well. A lack of education, poor job skills, and lack of motivation usually consign reserve residents who move to the mean parts of town where many end up in gangs, crime and prostitution. The result is that the people who stay in uneconomic remote reserves become more and more dependent. Low education levels sink even further. And succeeding generations become ever less likely to be able to provide for themselves and their families.

To make matters much worse, addiction problems are endemic. At one time, alcohol was the drug of choice. Now, amphetamines, fentanyl, and prescription drugs have been added to the list, with the family violence, sexual abuse, crime, teenage pregnancy and fetal alcohol births that inevitably follow from chronic drug use.

And reserve populations are growing. Although status Indians living on reserves currently comprise only about 1% of the total population, they are the country’s fastest growing demographic. The cost of operating these communities is crippling now, but in a few years, it will be completely unsustainable. Pretending that these desperately poor reserves are sovereign “nations” that will somehow magically become prosperous and self-supporting is a cruel joke on the young people hopelessly trapped on them. The prospect of hundreds of dependent reserves teeming with, unemployed, and largely unemployable young people, with massive social problems, is a frightening dystopia – hundreds of Gaza strips. But it is where we are headed. To make things even worse, the government-promoted false genocide and “missing children” narratives have made many of these people very angry.

Although there is no treaty right, or any other right to free housing on a reserve the reality is that if the government did not provide housing for the reserve residents, they would be unable to provide housing for themselves. The strange result is that Canadian taxpayers – many of whom will never be able to afford to buy a house themselves – pay through their tax dollars for houses for the rapidly growing reserve population. These houses deteriorate quickly, because they are considered “free” by the residents, and have to be fixed and replaced in a wasteful and expensive cycle.

And it is a national disgrace that most reserves are dead ends for most of the young people born into them.

The late Farley Mowat described northern indigenous settlements as “unguarded concentration camps”. That might be a somewhat harsh way to describe reserves, but at best most are human warehouses, plagued with social problems. The young people living there deserve some hope, and Canada’s current plan for them offers them none.

So, Canada’s current indigenous plan is clearly not working. Is there a better plan for success?

Maybe we should ask Wab Kinew, Manitoba’s new premier. He is indigenous and highly successful. How did he get there?

The formula is actually not complicated. It has nothing to do with massive welfare giveaways, “nation to nation” utopias, or incredibly expensive “reconciliation” projects. It definitely has nothing to do with staying in a community that lacks economic opportunities, and waiting for handouts. It involves education, hard work, and going where the jobs are. Kinew’s parents realized that a stable home and education were key. Wab did the rest. He worked his way up the ladder in the usual way, and went where the jobs were. He did that with his indigenous identity intact.

Not every young person has Kinew’s talent, but everyone can follow the formula that made Kinew, and many other indigenous achievers successful.

The alternative – spending ever increasing amounts on a steadily increasing list of demands from a growing dependent reserve population is not an option. We don’t need the parliamentary budget officer to tell us that it is not sustainable.

As for remote, uneconomic reserves, like St. Theresa Point, they should be gradually and humanely closed down. It has been recognized for many years that reserves long ago had served their purpose, and should be phased out. As far back as 1911, it was said:

“Department officials were increasingly coming to the view that reserves had outlived their usefulness. Frank Pedley suggested that they resulted in the isolation and segregation of Indians, and thereby hindered progress…and encouraged the tribal form of government.”

The reserve system was not ended in 1911 because the chiefs and ruling families refused to give up their privileged positions. It isn’t happening today for the same reasons. We still have the same Indian Act and reserve system that has held indigenous people back for almost 150 years. (Senior Ontario lawyer, Peter Best, describes the toxicity of the reserve system in his important book, There Is No Difference)

So, the long-term plan should be to find a way to overcome that resistance, and find a fair way to phase out reserves, and the antiquated Indian Act. The reserves that are economically viable can merge into existing rural municipalities, or become stand-alone municipalities. Opportunities should be made available for young people from uneconomic communities to move to job centres, and receive help to succeed there.

In the meantime, the example of Wab Kinew is proof that there has never been a better time or place than today’s Canada to be an educated and ambitious young indigenous person who is willing to study, work hard, and go where the jobs are.

Brian Giesbrecht is a retired judge and senior fellow at Frontier Centre for Public Policy

Watch Brian on Return to Reason here.

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Frontier Centre for Public Policy

Inner city shoplifting and Manitoba Premier Wab Kinew

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From the Frontier Centre for Public Policy

By Brian Giesbrecht

This problem is only made worse by gullible writers and politicians who make excuses for the thieves. Their excuse is that these people are disadvantaged, so they are less than fully responsible for their criminal conduct. Some sympathetic souls go even further, and suggest that these indigenous shoplifters are simply taking back what is rightfully theirs as “reparations” because the shop owners are on “stolen land”.

Winnipeg, Manitoba is being hit with an epidemic of shoplifting that appears to be out of control. Thieves openly steal expensive items, such as frozen meat, from inner city food stores. Shelves are stripped bare in what are more accurately described as robberies than shoplifting. Victims describe brazen thefts by entitled thieves who become indignant when caught in the act. One store employee, who tried to stop a theft, was told “You are on Treaty 1 territory”. The stores that are hardest hit are often owned by immigrant families who have worked very hard to build their modest businesses. Some have had to close, as a result of the unchecked criminality, and others will follow.

Police protection is weak. Even in rare cases where culprits are caught and prosecuted, sentences are minimal.

The problem of brazen theft from Winnipeg liquor stores reached such a serious level in the recent past that customers at urban liquor stores in Manitoba are now allowed to enter the store only after lining up single file, and producing identification. Liquor prices have risen as a result, because special government employees must be hired to sit at the door to inspect ID’s. Customers must line up outside, even on the coldest winter days, because freeloaders choose to steal liquor. And everyone – including the police – are too shy to confront the robbers.

Other western cities, such as Regina, Saskatoon and Thunder Bay are having similar problems. Even small cities, such as Wetaskiwin, Alberta, are hard hit.

The common element is that all of these cities and towns have significant indigenous populations who migrated to the cities from largely dysfunctional reserves, where attitudes of dependency, entitlement and victimhood prevail. Most arrive poorly educated, with few job skills, but with an expectation that they will be provided for. They proceed to live rough lives on the mean streets of these cities. Many drift to shoplifting and other crime. The inner city thieves are disproportionately from this demographic.

This problem is only made worse by gullible writers and politicians who make excuses for the thieves. Their excuse is that these people are disadvantaged, so they are less than fully responsible for their criminal conduct. Some sympathetic souls go even further, and suggest that these indigenous shoplifters are simply taking back what is rightfully theirs as “reparations” because the shop owners are on “stolen land”. They argue that these indigenous people are victims of a system that gives them no chance to succeed, or that they are suffering from the “intergenerational trauma” presumably caused by the fact that 1 in 6 indigenous children attended residential schools in the past.

The shoplifters readily adopt these excuses, and claim to be victims of “systemic racism”.

But, wait a minute! Isn’t the Premier of Manitoba, Wab Kinew, indigenous? Isn’t he a successful, law-abiding person? And wouldn’t most indigenous Canadians laugh at the idea that they had to steal to survive? How is it that Wab Kinew, and the many other successful indigenous Canadians manage their lives just fine while the shoplifters cannot?

The answer is that Wab succeeded the way all successful people do. He went to school, worked hard, and went where the jobs are. He was fortunate to have competent, caring parents who understood the importance of education and hard work. His parents also understood that assimilation (or, if you prefer, integration) was essential for their son to succeed. Wab’s father had a rough time in residential school, but used what he learned to raise a son who has become a provincial premier.

 The fact that Kinew is fully assimilated does not prevent him from celebrating his indigenous heritage. Recently, a video of him energetically performing a prairie chicken dance went viral. It showed indigenous youth that they too can be both successful Canadians – and proudly indigenous – at the same time.

It is clear from watching him dancing so vigorously that he would have been a formidable warrior in pre-contact indigenous hunting culture. Colonialism ended that possibility. But it is equally clear that he, and the other indigenous people who were willing to learn the new ways, received a lot in return from the settlers. He is now an articulate, literate, thoroughly modern man, thanks to “settler colonialism”. Colonialism has also given him an expected lifespan more than double that of yesterday’s hunter-gatherers. Colonialism gave at least as much as it took from him.

Kinew’s memoir, “The Reason You Walk” describes someone determined to live his life not as a victim, but as a confident indigenous Canadian.

He built his own life – making mistakes along the way – but learning from those mistakes, and is now the leader of a province – and lauded as a possible future prime minister. He offers no apologies to critics who suggest that an indigenous person who is successful is somehow “selling out” indigenous people. His famous reply to that old saw is “Aboriginal success is the best form of reconciliation”.

Don’t expect to find Wab Kinew stealing frozen hamburger from a Food Fare store anytime soon.

But here’s the lesson indigenous youth can learn from the example Wab Kinew, and other successful indigenous people have set: “If they can do it, so can you”. They should also tell the apologists who want to give them tired excuses – excusing theft as “reparations” for perceived past wrongs, or “intergenerational trauma” – that they, like Wab, refuse to live their lives as “victims”.

In short, the solution to the shoplifting problem is not to condone theft. It is not to treat criminals differently because they are indigenous. It is not to offer them excuses. The solution is to create more Wab Kinews.

And that’s up to Indigenous parents. No government can do that for them. For many families, like Wab’s, that will include the difficult decision to move from dead-end reserves.  But if they have the same commitment to their children’s education and upbringing that Wab’s parents had there is no reason that they can’t raise successful children in this country.

Long before he became Manitoba’s premier, Wab Kinew, regularly entertained listeners on CBC Radio. He was a refreshing, common sense voice, and always refused to play the victim. He never failed to remind young indigenous people that Canada worked just fine for him.

And, with a bit of grit and hard work, it can work for them too.


Brian Giesbrecht, retired judge, is a Senior Fellow at the Frontier Centre for Public Policy.

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Frontier Centre for Public Policy

Let’s get the facts on the graves, with a public inquiry

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From the Frontier Centre for Public Policy

By Brian Giesbrecht

Canada needs a public inquiry into what has become known as “The Kamloops Graves Hoax”.

The May 27, 2021 claim of the Kamloops Indian band was that “human remains” were found in the apple orchard area of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School, resulting in what has been described both as a “national hysteria” and a “moral panic”. The band subsequently extended the claim to include other even more graphic  terms, such as “bodies”, “graves” and even “mass graves”. Emotional articles and books followed.

In a press release issued three years after those sensational claims were made, their chief, Roseanne Casimir, has finally admitted the truth – there were no “human remains”, “bodies” “graves” or “mass graves” found at Kamloops.

Only “soil anomalies” were detected. Those anomalies could just as easily be tree roots, rocks, or the result of any of the other previous excavations that had been done in that same area. (As it happens there was a previous excavation in the area that was apparently missed by the radar operator. It is almost certain that it was soil anomalies from a 1924 excavation that her radar detected.)

Those 2021 false claims sent the nation into a panic. There is no need to describe in detail the flag-lowering, church-burning shock and  frenzy that spread like wildfire through national and  international media, brought the ailing Pope to Canada, convinced shamed MPs to condemn their own country as genocidal, vote in regressive UNDRIP and other incredibly expensive legislation, and spend what will be billions of dollars on a futile search for “missing children” who never existed. Many fine writers, including Terry Glavin, have described these strange last three years.

That episode of national hysteria is now an embarrassing  part of Canada’s history.

A legitimate question to ask is why the Kamloops band made those false claims.

Chief Casimir said that they were based on Sarah Beaulieu’s report.

“But it would be shockingly unprofessional for a ground penetrating radar operator (GPR) to claim that graves had been found before excavation had taken place. It is well known that GPR can detect only soil anomalies or disturbances. It cannot detect “graves” or “human remains”. A simple Google search of the question “Can ground penetrating radar detect graves?” is all that is necessary to find that answer.

It therefore seems highly unlikely that Beaulieu would have made such a reckless claim. Almost certainly, Beaulieu properly reported only that soil disturbances, anomalies or reflections – that might be graves — were detected, and that excavation would be necessary to determine whether or not those disturbances were graves, or any of the hundreds of other possibilities.

But the answer to precisely what Beaulieu said can only be found by reading her report. And that is currently impossible, because the band is refusing to release the report. This is odd, because they had initially promised to release it, and only later reneged on that promise. They are are now steadfastly refusing to let the public see it.

The only reasonable explanation for this refusal is that they have something to hide – specifically that their claim of “graves” found was a claim they knew was false when they made it. Beaulieu’s report almost certainly did not say that graves had been found.

But on the strength of what appears to be a lie they made an application to the federal government for money to deal with what they said were “graves” containing the remains of 215 KIRS students – students they insisted had died under sinister circumstances, and were secretly buried by persons unknown, with the forced help of children – “as young as six”.

Exactly what representations the band made to the federal government in order to get the $8,000,000, or how the money was spent, is unknown, for the simple reason that both the band and the federal government have not released that information to the public.

Logic dictates that either Sarah Beaulieu, or Chief Roseanne Casimir, claimed that “graves” had been found, knowing that such information was false. Only one of them was telling the truth. $8,000,000 was obtained from the federal government on false information. Who made that false “grave” claim?

The Kamloops band refuses to release Beaulieu’s report – a report they initially promised to release. They are also refusing to provide any details about how the $8,000,000 was spent – despite not having put even one shovel in the ground. The RCMP is refusing to investigate anything involving the Kamloops claim, unless the Kamloops band requests their assistance. It is not likely that the band will ask the RCMP to investigate their own false claim. The federal government is refusing to release any details about the representations made by the band in order to obtain the $8,000,000.

And now, three years after that claim of “human remains” the Kamloops band has suddenly changed “remains” to exactly what they always were “anomalies”. They refuse to provide an explanation for that astounding reversal.

Meanwhile, there is absolutely no explanation from the Trudeau government about why they gave out millions of dollars of taxpayers’ money, and severely damaged Canada’s reputation at home and abroad, with a preposterous genocide confession, for allegations about secret graves that a simple Google search would have told them were false. There is also no explanation for the mainstream media’s failure to do that simple Google search, or ask even one obvious question about claims that were so highly improbable from the outset.

Hamlet’s “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark” quote is apt here.

Except the smell is coming straight from Kamloops and Ottawa.

Most Canadians now believe at least some version of the original claim that priests secretly buried indigenous children at Kamloops. One in five believe that priests actually murdered the children.

Life in Canada has been severely disrupted by the false claims made on May 27, 2021. Canada’s reputation has been badly damaged. Canadian schoolchildren are being falsely taught that their ancestors were genocidal racists.

We have now reached the absurd point where a Justice Minister of Canada has seriously considered  criminalizing  anyone asking legitimate questions about these secret burial claims, Canada’s Senate has recommended that even writing an article disputing the original May 27, 2021 Kamloops claim should be outlawed – apparently making not only this article – but even Casimir’s recent correction to “anomalies” illegal. This madness must end. Canadians deserve to know how things went so horribly wrong.

A public inquiry is the only way to clear the air, and get the country back on track.

Brian Giesbrecht, retired judge, is a senior fellow at the Frontier Centre for Public Policy.

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