Canada doesn’t have to choose between Attawapiskat and Syria

In the early hours of April 10, 7 young kids between 7 and 14  were admitted to the 15 bed hospital in Attawapiskat, Ontario.

There are no full time doctors, flying in only 4 days a week, three weeks of the month,  and on evenings and weekends, two nursesare the only ones to keep a permanent presence of health professionals.

This crisis immediately overwhelmed any response capacity for days, making national news (that once again) denounce the third world conditions on Canadian Aboriginal communities.

Responding to this crisis, the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs Hon. Carolyn Bennett visited Attawapiskat, and there a young aboriginal adult asked her along the lines: “Why the Canadian Government is spending hundreds of millions of dollars bringing refugees from Syria, and not spending those resources in aboriginal communities in desperate need of housing, running water, education and health?”.

A very good question. And the Minister babbled the political correct answer along the lines of how important Aboriginal communities are for Canada, and how fresh resources will be injected into the Communities for solving the needs, and partnerships with First Nations and Aboriginal leadership, and policies, and blah, blah, blah.  I am not criticizing the Minister, since at the end, its the only answer she can give.

The “politically incorrect” answer is simple.

For the Canadian Government, bringing refugees from Syria is an investment. By bringing refugees to Canada (on their own free will) the Government is betting that most of those families will effectively and successfully integrate to the Canadian society, will integrate into the labor market, and will contribute with taxes in order to help support the services that an aging population demand in pensions, social assistance, and health care.

Unfortunately, today, the Aboriginal communities are not seen as an investment but as an expense.

For example, for the last 4 years, each spring  the Kashechewan First Nation (1500 people) are flown out of their communities because of the fear of flooding by the Albany river.

Start adding up express flights (in and out), plus temporary accommodations and it pretty quickly adds up. Wouldn’t it make more sense to start planning to move Kashechewan out of the path of the river? But no, short sighted governance make for great news on TV, since quick and decisive actions are better than long term planning.

At the end, the answer on how to turn the Aboriginal communities from expenditure to investment is also simple.  Give them appropriate housing (not in a flooding area), health care and education services at par to the rest of the country, they don’t deserve anything less.

Provide every Aboriginal kid living in isolated northern community free education including University and College and provide them with subsidized housing and transportation so that they can live close to the University, but travel back home several times a year.

Even, establish a federal scholarship so that the best minds of this untapped resource of Aboriginal youth can attend any university in Canada, so that they can effectively join the job market at their full potential and contribute back to the country.

As a country we have to stop thinking in short term crisis-solving solutions, and start enabling the Aboriginal Youth to integrate to the rest of Canada.


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