Economics and the mid-life crisis have much in common: Both dwell on foregone opportunities

C'est la vie; c'est la guerre; c'est la pomme de terre . . . . . . . . . . . . . email: jpalmer at uwo dot ca

. . . . . . . . . . .Richard Posner should be awarded the next Nobel Prize in Economics . . . . . . . . . . . .

Monday, November 14, 2005

The Tragedy of First Nations

The evolution of relations between North American aboriginal people and the Canadian gubmnts at all levels has been tragic. The result of centuries of interaction has been that people with aboriginal status learn that the gubmnt is responsible for everything that goes wrong and the that gubmnt will (promise to) fix it. This is tragic for several reasons.

  1. It is not always clear what level of gubmnt is responsible, as with the poor water quality in Kashechewan. The feds were blaming the Province of Ontario, and the Province was blaming the feds, and both are liberal gubmnts, so both blamed former tory gubmnts.
  2. More tragically, the lesson, reinforced over the years, is that gubmnts are responsible for anything that goes wrong on a reserve.

If I, in my present cultural mindset, had lived in Kashechewan, I would have moved long ago or organized something locally to clean up the water. I would not have relied on gubmnt provision of bottled water for nearly a decade.

But that is in my present mindset. I have not been taught through the generations that the gubmnt has a responsibility to look after things if I just wait; I have not had dependency ingrained in me . . . . though heaven knows present gubmnts seem to be trying to creat such an impression.

At least as tragic was the response [$, h/t to Jack]. Gubmnts, afraid of not reacting swiftly enough, over-reacted:

For decades, governments have been content to waste hundreds of millions of dollars on bogus solutions to the water crisis on reserves. No level of government has been prepared to make the legal and operational changes required to ensure the safety of water. Kashechewan represents the nadir of waste and incompetence. Out of it, however, may flow a model that can be used to deliver safe water to reserves and other isolated communities across Canada.

The Kashechewan water crisis gave politicians — federal, provincial and aboriginal — the opportunity to spend other people’s money with abandon.

... No one seems to know or care how much the evacuation cost.

While the costs are murky, one thing is crystal clear: The tainted water did not justify the evacuation. Of the roughly 700 health assessments completed by the middle of last week, not one found an illness related to E. coli. [emphasis added].

Meanwhile, the federal government is incurring another set of equally unnecessary costs. Not to be outdone by the drama of the province-led evacuation, the federal government called in the Canadian Forces, asking them to bring to Kashechewan a 10-tonne reverse osmosis water purification unit — a unit capable of treating water contaminated by nuclear, biological or chemical warfare agents.

Although the water purifier requires a crew of three engineers or technicians, the Canadian Forces sent a detachment of 11 engineers and other military personnel to operate it, three two-person liaison teams and 30 Rangers to provide a “presence” in the community.

There was only one problem: The forces and their purification equipment arrived on the scene 13 days after Kashechewan’s own system had begun producing safe water. INAC knew the E. coli problem had been solved. Upon learning of the water contamination, INAC had summoned to Kashechewan Northern Waterworks Inc., a small water treatment firm based in Red Lake, Ont. It had taken a company technician just six hours to repair the malfunctioning chlorination system. The E. coli had disappeared faster than you can say “competent operator.”[emphasis added].

The lesson seems to be that we will not hold political leaders on reserves responsible for making decisisions. The gubmnt further will overreact, extremely inefficiently, once someone alleges the problem is the result of gubmnt inaction.

This chain of dependency must be broken if people living on reserves are to break out of the patterns that have destroyed too many lives on the reserves. Well-meaning, caring individuals must help the transition, but we can no longer have an entire segment of our population treated as if they are incapable of making choices and looking after themselves.

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