Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Truth and Reconciliation?

When Sheila Fraser left her post as the Auditor General of Canada she had some strong words to say to the federal government regarding its failure to live up to its fiduciary responsibilities to the aboriginal peoples of Canada on issues too numerous to list here.

Now, I've been thinking about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission on Residential Schools, and it's left me with a feeling that much of these types of exercises are rather one-sided affairs where aboriginals, who seem more than willing to settle things to rest while the federal, provincial and territorial governments remain autistic and oblivious as to their roles in all of this.

The story here in Nunavut is typical of this lop-sided relationship. With the signing of the land claims agreement Inuit had hoped (reasonably) to start addressing long-standing issues but somewhere along the line the GN bureaucracy seems to have hijacked the process and made this great opportunity into something of a gaudy shell-game of guess where the money is.

In terms of using the legitimacy of Inuit "elders" to cover the modesty of bureaucrats, and make the departments a bit more "Inuit-friendly", these elders are plopped into the office without any regard for "orientation" or "professional development training" that is so generously given to new hires (usually from the "south"). These Inuit elders become nothing more than furniture (keeping up with the Joneses, like) disconnected from the rest of the activities of the office other than the IQ days where they are taken out and paraded for show-and-tell.

The elders do the best they can, but often they have no real actionable knowledge of the departments' mandates, vision statements and government priorities to do anything of substance they envisioned doing when they accepted their posts. I know a couple of elders who have been conscientious enough to feel that they aren't earning their keep and wonder aloud what they were doing in their empty offices, just waiting for someone to talk to them and tell them what was expected from them. These are people used to working hard and feeling needed and wanted in what they did before being treated as office furniture.

To the GN departments: I think it's high time they talked amongst themselves to learn from each other what "best practices" are in keeping the Inuit elders busy and needed and relevant in their place of work. For eg, the Curriculum Development Office in Arviat has done some wonderful work with elders that can be translated and applied to other GN departments. But I highly doubt that they've ever been approached to help other departments get their acts together and actually utilizing this great potential resource. And following Fraser's parting words, there should be some oversight function to track and audit regular-like the departments' performances because the internal incentives and the money spent to "hire" elders is really part of the finite resources that never seem to be enough to make a difference in our lives (so sayeth the gate-keepers).

Much is made about the noble rule of law and responsibilities to reason and justice in presenting the needs and interests of government bureaucracies when they have something to take from the aboriginal peoples, but the disingenuous creep (as in, mission creep) takes hold the moment funding and policies are secured. I know of no other example of this type of animosity and viscerality that is bureaucracy and "legitimate" government against its own people like that of aboriginal-government relations outside of despotic regimes which Canada claims to be a natural enemy of.

Racism may no longer be socially tenable in the individual (there are laws against this type of behaviour) but it has yet to be addressed as an institutional problem. Shameful, utterly shameful.


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