When Is It Time To Leave?

| Disqus Comments

Discussion about the failure of some Aboriginal communities quickly splits non-Aboriginal bloggers and journalists into two predictable camps. In the left corner, in the red trunks; those who believe it’s the “fault” of the government for abrogating its treaty responsibilities, slashing programs designed to promote real capacity creation, and pursuing a not-so covert agenda of assimilation. In the right corner, in the blue trunks, those who blame the Band (Attawapiskat is the fashionable target this year, or just Injuns in general) for their feckless, spendthrift ways, lack of accountability, and general corruption).

I suppose that formulation of the issue betrays my bias. But there’s a bigger, broader question that deserves reflection and discussion, and it’s one that folks in my camp, including me, have a hard time with.

When IS it time to abandon a settlement?

Humans have always formed communities in places where they make sense. At the place where the caribou ford the river. Where the two trails cross and people need shelter and provisions. Where the wheat grows. Where the mine is. Where the cod are. Where they put the church and the store. Where the shore is sheltered and the water is deep enough to harbor. Where the slope of the land lets us fend off those other guys. Where the volcano isn’t. (Yo, Dawg!! ‘Ware lava!)

Those are all reasons to settle. But none of them are permanent. The world is full of abandoned places that for one reason or another stopped working - the new railroad bypassed the town, the sickness came, the coal seam ran out, the potato harvest failed too many times. A settlement is created at particular time, in response to a cultural, physical and economic environment. Sometimes those environments change; sometimes those changes mean the community can no longer be sustained.

Many First Nations are working just fine, successfully managing the transition from traditional economies to integration with the larger Canadian and global economies. They retain their land base. They negotiate development agreements that ensure a fair return to community through resource revenue sharing agreements, employment and training contracts, environmental protection and remediation standards, and all the indirect benefits inherent in large-scale development.

Those are the lucky ones. The ones with oil, or natural gas, or gold, or diamonds. The ones with a great vista for the tourists, or polar bears for the rich Germans to hunt. The ones with arable land, near a highway and a city where the kids can go to school and the elders have access to health care.

But many don’t have those assets. Pic Mobert, Grassy Meadows, many Arctic settlements that relied on hunting before spoiled German teenagers and preening, naked supermodels destroyed the market for fur. All they have left is their land, held in trust by the Crown. Their kids are growing up without hope of employment, watching the world through TV and the internet, wondering where they fit, and deciding in horrifying numbers that they don’t.

Rock: the one asset the First Nations can count on is the land they own.

Hard place: the land they own, in many cases, can’t sustain an economy.

I believe a community must ultimately retain the right to determine its own best interests, and set its own path. And while allowing for a certain amount of politics and self interest - about what you’d experience in any community or corporation - I assume that most communities will eventually make their decisions on the basis of their members’ best interests.

But some communities are simply unsustainable. The train don’t run by here no more.


Return to the home page

blog comments powered by Disqus

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Balbulican published on May 14, 2012 6:45 PM.

Italian notes: Etna was the previous entry in this blog.

Watching The Clock is the next entry in this blog.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.

Powered by Movable Type 6.3.6