Dr. Dawg

Stereotyping Attawapiskat

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Attawapiskat winter1.jpg

Juxtaposing the financials of Attawapiskat and the Harper government has proven to be a rich source of double standard ore, and bloggers have been all over it.

The corporate media have certainly mentioned Tony Clement’s misappropriation of $50 million, for example, repurposing border security monies to fribbles in his own riding. But somehow that just flared and died.

The Sixth Estate links to the Auditor-General’s report of that sorry episode: readers should actually go over there and look for themselves. Guess what? Money down a rathole. No paper trail. Sloppy or non-existent bookkeeping. Sound familiar?

The Crommunist Manifesto raises other matters: Parliasmentary Budget Officer Kevin Page, having to sue the government to get details of expenditures. Inflating the salaries of Conservative staffers and cronies while public employees are being laid off in the name of austerity.

None of these stories had the same prominence in the media as tiny Attawapiskat. There was no torrent of paternalistic BS from editors and columnists about the obvious inability of white people to govern themselves properly or keep a clean set of books. There was no advocacy for abolishing traditional Conservative ways and moving into the twenty-first century.

When it comes to Attawapiskat, however, old racist stereotypes still die hard. Never mind the clear racism oozing from media stories and online comments threads. The overall media atmosphere is toxic, and the message, drummed into us day after day, is simple: Indians can’t handle money, they are incompetent, they fear transparency, they are living in the past.

On-going treaty obligations on the Crown in return for the surrender of the very property we are living on are routinely mischaracterized as handouts or subsidies, even though, as one astute observer has noted, the First Nations are subsidizing the rest of us through massive resource extractions from their traditional lands. Peoples scarred by their history are presented, not as collective victims, but as cunning predators.

The sheer lack of reflection by the media is shocking, when you step back a little. They question none of the underlying racist assumptions: rather, they continue to promulgate them. Double standards, as noted, are absolutely rife. They almost inevitably come to aboriginal issues with a negative animus, sometimes dressed up as paternalistic concern.

Even when First Nations are open and transparent, media types behave as though they are not. And so, for example, Attawapiskat annual audits are posted on the Attawapiskat website for all to see. A Management Letter from 2011 is up there in plain sight, detailing shortcomings in the reserve’s bookkeeping, but Ottawa Citizen reporter Jordan Press tells us he went through Access to Information to get it—a bit like kicking down a door instead of trying the doorknob. The press as a whole responded like puppies to a biscuit when the PMO leaked a Deloitte audit that covers the same ground and says the same things, making it all sound like some kind of bombshell revelation.

In fact, as has been pointed out by numerous commentators, matters improved under the leadership of Chief Theresa Spence, who was elected only in 2010 (the latter another fact the media keep forgetting to mention). Have they improved still further in 2012? Funny—the media aren’t asking that question, one I might have thought would be obvious.

The sheer scale of the campaign against the hamlet of Attawapiskat is something worth noting in itself. Vast quantities of ink and pixels have been devoted to the non-story of poor bookkeeping on the reserve, replete with false allegations and racist premises. Clearly Chief Spence’s struggle on behalf of her First Nation, not to mention the #IdleNoMore protests across Canada, have struck a nerve deep within the dominant society. That’s the real story here: but you won’t read it or see it in the mainstream media.

[H/t AlbertaRabbit]

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This page contains a single entry by Dr. Dawg published on January 8, 2013 10:26 AM.

Playing the media on Attawapiskat was the previous entry in this blog.

Ordinary people is the next entry in this blog.

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