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Monday, 5 December 2011

Social injustice - Attawapiskat, Aboriginal Health and Janus

It is a tough job being a politician at any level of government. We likely don’t admire and respect those that donate their lives in the public's service enough. In one way it is kind of like parenting. A tough job - oddly we don’t train parents either. If we want the best politicians, we need to properly train them, adequately compensate them, and certainly respect them.   It really makes you wonder why anyone would run for and sit in public office.
So two stories caught the public interest this week. The first being the outrageous and unacceptable living conditions on the Attawapiskat First Nation.   What started as a desperate plea for chronic wronging the community and letting infrastructure deteriorate to third world conditions, became a political ploy suggesting that the very Chief and Council that extended the plea were incompetent and their administrative powers relieved by the federal government.  Talk about blaming the victim. Are we regressing to the days of the Indian Agent? The government official who managed reserve affairs and was even responsible for issuing passes to allow Aboriginal peoples to temporarily leave their reserve?  
There are several studies that have demonstrated the improvements in health to be achieved amongst Aboriginal peoples in Canada are being catalyzing and accelerated by empowering the very same communities.  It is integral to the 1979 Declaration of Alma Ata on primary health care, central to the 1986 Ottawa Charter on health promotion, and even woven as a misinterpretation of conservative ideals in shifting responsibility to the individual.  It seemed we were headed in a constructive direction.
Many Canadian First nations are in dire straights.  Basic infrastructure such as drinking water, sewerage, access to food and housing are compromised from decades of neglect that preceeding efforts at administrative transfer and self-government.  The problems will not resolve overnight.  There are many First Nations that hugely successful financially, engaging in large business operations and with community members that are thriving – so painting a brush that even hints that First Nations political structures need to be held more accountable is paternalistic at best, and more likely just insulting.  Just as with municipal and federal governments, there is a bell curve of success.  With cities like Detroit, and countries like Greece on the verge of finanical collapse, an acknowledgement of the diversity of successes is needed and a plan to support communities that are struggling.
Double the Attawapiskat insult with the indiscretion of a senior cabinet minister who for the sake of an additional 90 minutes of fishing, utilized a military helicopter to be extracted from a resort location.  Or the senior military official who last year used a government jet to attend to 'business' in the West Indies.   The icing on this cake is the Prime Minister publically defending the actions of his cabinet Minister
Perhaps we need to accept the rationale for what looks on the surface as a “perk”.  It might even be encouraged that those that are willing to stand for office be rewarded rather than penalized for their contributions.   We have independent government officers whose job it is to oversee and rule on inappropriateness in government and that process can be invoked as needed. 
What is not understandable is how Harper can apply a double standard, suggesting most First Nations governments are corrupt, and then excusing his own Cabinet Minister for possible misuse of public funds. So why might we be having such a tough time respecting his leadership?  Janus was known as the two-faced god.
The Ottawa Charter identified social justice as a prerequisite for health. Should we be surprised at the continuing health disparity amongst First Nations when social injustice persists?

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