Aboriginal needs ignored by Ottawa, G20

by Barry Weisleder

Far from the G20 Summit galas, 2,700 members of Sandy Lake First Nation gathered to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the signing of Treaty 5. In the century since aboriginal people ceded 100,000 square kilometres of land to the British Crown for a few tools and an annual payment of $5 a head, grinding poverty remains the norm.

Sandy Lake is a fly-in-only community 600 kilometres northwest of Thunder Bay (Lake Superior) that survived for centuries on hunting, trapping and fishing. Today, aboriginal teen suicide is five to six times higher for First Nations youth between 10 and 24 years of age than for non-aboriginal youth. Of the 600 young people between 18 and 29 living at Sandy Lake, only about 20 have jobs, according to Chief Adam Fiddler.

Canada has gotten “very wealthy” as a result of many treaty arrangements made, says Nishnawbe Aski Nation (NAN) Chief Stan Beardy. NAN represents 49 First Nation communities.

“We are not happy.” Instead of sharing the wealth and resources of the land, European settlers sidelined the natives, says Beardy. He wonders why Canada has so far not signed the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous People. He wonders why Prime Minister Harper talks about a maternal health strategy for the Third World, yet he neglects the problem in his own backyard.

Statistics Canada data shows the aboriginal infant death rate is 1.5 times higher than the Canadian rate. In addition, there are 118 First Nations across Canada where the water is too polluted to drink. According to the Assembly of First Nations, 5,486 of 88,485 houses on-reserve do not have sewage services. Around Sandy Lake, many houses have plastic sheets or cardboard serving as windows. Some homes have no outer walls at all, just insulation.

While the federal government spent $46 million in the Huntsville area to spruce up an already rich part of southern Ontario for a G8 Summit lasting just a few hours, in addition to the $1.2 Billion-plus for ‘security’ for the two-day G20 in Toronto, there’s precious little for aboriginal communities, or for urban aboriginals. Their plight was not even on the agenda when the henchmen of global Capital gathered to plan their future plunder of world resources.