Elliott Flett R.I.P.

Commentary, Aboriginal Futures, Frontier Centre

On Tuesday, October 30, 2007, there was another gang-related killing of a young aboriginal man in the city of Winnipeg. Elliot Flett of The Opasquiak Cree Nation died a brutal death at the hands of rival gang members. He was stabbed 38 times, his throat was slit and a number was carved into his chest with a knife. This heinous crime shows the sheer brutality of Winnipeg’s street gangs.

For years, the lack of opportunity on the reserves has driven many people to the cities to seek a better way of life and to escape the welfare trap on their reserves.

The lack of a quality education means minimum wages, and minimum wages hardly pay a family’s bills. As a result, there is not enough money left to give children spending money or small luxuries. For some young natives, gangs offer that cash, but it comes at a very high price.

Many parents who left the reserves watch sadly as their children are recruited into gangs. After escaping the political turmoil and poverty that often divides families on reserves, they face an even more stressful situation as their sons become drug dealers and their daughters are forced into the sex trade.

Not long ago, a Winnipeg city councillor suggested that the native leadership become involved in solving the gang problem since many members are aboriginal. He was quickly rebuffed by the Southern Chiefs organization.

Where are our native leaders?

The leaders who spend too much time in the city cannot deal with the day-to-day issues affecting their people. The constant trips to the city by the leaders and their staff cost the bands a small fortune and yield few results, and in many cases, the reserves’ downward spiral continues.

Far too many reserves vote for leaders who are uneducated, and this means little or no change for those reserves. Some natives have moved beyond the idea that the government owes them a living and have created economic opportunities for their reserves and their people, but they are rare.

Recently, the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs (AMC) hired a consulting firm to study the problems affecting aboriginal people who have moved to the city. That the Grand Chief has no clue about the problems facing urban aboriginals is a huge problem, and it is time everyday native people vote for a Grand Chief who is knowledgeable about the problems they face and who will truly represent them. Currently, only the chiefs and councillors vote for the Grand Chief. People on the reserves are not consulted about the nominations, and this is a huge barrier to resolving many, many First Nations’ problems in Manitoba.

Could the AMC’s sudden interest in the welfare of urban aboriginals have anything to do with the recent visit of the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples (CAP), an organization that represents off-reserve Indians, Inuit and Métis? CAP is travelling across Canada and was in the city doing what the AMC is attempting to do, talking to urban aboriginals to find out what problems they face.

CAP has been criticized by other native organizations. However, Prime Minister Stephen Harper addressed members at this year’s annual general assembly, thereby lending credibility to the Ottawa-based organization.

CAP’s visit might achieve many things for both the aboriginal people and the people of Winnipeg by giving the AMC a quick kick in the pants to get it to help young people who fled the reserves to seek a better life than the one their leaders provided.

For Elliot Flett, life was short, but there is still time for the others caught in the native poverty zone.