OPINION – Fix Things Instead Of Just Talking About It

Dorothy DobbieThe People's Voice

WINNIPEG, MB – That a wealthy country such as Canada can help a few thousand refugees is a good thing and something of which we can be proud. But it defies logic that the same country tolerates homelessness, children living in third world conditions on reserves and reserves at all, for that matter.

How can we be so hypocritical as to applaud action on the foreign front while ignoring the need on our own doorsteps? Why are our priorities not with our own people and why have we allowed their poverty and destitution to persist here at home?

These questions plague me. Is our callousness towards our own people rooted in racism? Do we not see or do we just not care that our society has turned its collective back on these people? Nor is our lack of action politically based. All parties, in all jurisdictions, have failed to resolve or even tackle these issues, although all have, from time to time, thrown a bag of pennies that way to dampen any enthusiasm for finding long term solutions.

On the question of our First Nations, the conditions for children on and off reserves, and missing women, there have been countless commissions, studies, parliamentary committees and endless reports, all ending up gathering dust in the archives. On the issue of homelessness, shuffled off to the cities, there have been more studies and reports but very little real action.

When I was first appointed parliamentary secretary to the minister of Indian and Northern Affairs, to prepare myself I read everything I could, including the Indian Act. It made me so angry I could hardly wait for my departmental briefing. I was burning with one question: What’s the long term plan to get rid of this pernicious document and start treating our Aboriginal people with respect? The departmental staff looked at me in consternation and then gently explained, as to an idiot, “We don’t make long term plans here, Madam Dobbie.”

Presumably, this answer is based on the assumption that governments and priorities change, but that is not an acceptable answer. How can questions of simple humanity not be a priority? Every party says they are. So why can we not find enough political consensus to make a long term collaborative plan to resolve these issues?

Here’s a suggestion: in the spirit of sensible leadership, we could agree to create a results-oriented task force to tackle the Indian Act, First Nations poverty and the conditions on and off reserves, including missing Aboriginal women, this time involving the “stake-holders” (the stakeholders being First Nations people) as well as political representatives from affected levels of government. We could further agree to tackle homelessness in the same way.

I can see the eyes rolling, as this is read: What planet does that Pollyanna live on? But just think. If we really cared about these issues, if they were true priorities, we could find the solutions. And if we want to hold our heads up out there in the wide, wide world as a compassionate, kinder and gentler nation led by one of “sunny ways”, then we’d better hop to it and make something happen.

Otherwise, no matter how many refugees we rescue, we will be seen as the hypocrites we have so far been proven to be.

Dorothy Dobbie, Manitoba Post