When it comes to aboriginal affairs, it’s too bad that many of the ideas meant to improve the lives of ordinary natives never see the light of day.
The best suggestion I’ve seen all year is the proposal by the Frontier Centre for Public Policy that non-viable reserves be relocated closer to urban centres — and jobs.
It will never happen, of course, because aboriginal leaders would rather hang onto worthless pieces of land, usually far from the mainstream, where the only jobs going are typically related to band administration.
As a result, huge numbers of reserve residents are on welfare (60% to 80% on the Prairies) and struggling with all the social dysfunction that accompanies a life of dependence.
"This is untenable and must change," says the Frontier Centre report, published earlier this year.
"Part of the problem is that many First Nations people live on lands that were not given to them for reasons of progress, but their stagnation," it explains.
The problem is there’s no incentive for band leaders to shut down the reserves that are the worst economic basket cases because $10 billion a year flows from the federal government to Canada’s 900- odd bands no matter what.
In addition, there’s all the money band chiefs and councillors make, regardless of how many people are on welfare. More than 80 reserve politicians (including 47 in Alberta) earned more than the prime minister in 2008-09 and more than 200 (including 69 in Alberta) were paid more than their respective premiers, the Canadian Taxpayers Federation reported Monday.
Sure, there are cascades of oil money floating around this province.
But you have to wonder about the ethics of band leaders of a typical Alberta reserve, population 2,200, earning that much money.
Are grassroots natives any better off with so many of their politicians pocketing staggering salaries?
Several dozen band administrations are under some form of co-management or third-party intervention at any one time, the Frontier Centre study notes.
"It is a sad fact of history that most reserve land is marginal land," the report explains.
It proposes that non-viable reserves move closer to urban centres, while retaining the right to use the former sites for activities like hunting and fishing.
Bands should receive financial inducements to relocate to more suitable areas, the report adds.
Aboriginal leaders need to recognize that individuals are more important than geography, the study says . "One should never sacrifice individual well-being and human rights for a concept of attachment to land."
The Maori, in New Zealand, are subject to treaties but don’t have reserves and have become heavily urbanized, while maintaining their language and traditions, the study points out.
In fact, the Maori are not a burden on New Zealand taxpayers, according to a 2003 report by the New Zealand Institute of Economic Research. Maori households contribute more to the economy, through taxes, than they receive in fiscal transfers.
Not only are the Maori highly integrated into mainstream life, the Maori economy, as a whole, is more profitable than New Zealand’s, the study notes. In contrast, billions of dollars a year are being transferred from Ottawa to Canada’s reserves with no significant improvements.
As Quebec singer Felix Leclerc said: "The best way to kill a man is to pay him to do nothing."