The London Free Press, Dec 21 2008: By Rory Leishman [Used with permission]
Frances Widdowson and Albert Howard are a pair of tough-minded socialist intellectuals. In a powerful new book, Disrobing the Aboriginal Industry: The Deception Behind Indigenous Cultural Preservation, they dare to point that Canada’s hugely expensive aboriginal programs have served to enrich an aboriginal elite and their white advisers, while doing little to assist the needy.
Widdowson and Howard trace the failure of aboriginal policy to the 1967 Hawthorn Report, a federally commissioned survey of Canadian Indians by Harry Hawthorn. In conformity with the trendy, but absurd, doctrine that all cultures are of equal value, Hawthorn urged the government to hand over more funding to aboriginal political organizations and stop trying to compel an aboriginal person to “acquire those values of the majority society he does not hold or wish to acquire.”
Former prime minister Pierre Trudeau rejected this advice. In a White Paper on Indian Policy in 1969, he recommended elimination of the Indian Act and the transfer of responsibility for aboriginal social policies to the provinces so that all natives would be entitled to the same rights and benefits as all other Canadians.
That was a sound idea, but alas, Trudeau backed down. Under pressure from aboriginal political leaders, his government retained the Indian Act, increased funding for aboriginal lobbyists and initiated what has proven to be a monumentally expensive and perpetual land-claims process.
Widdowson and Howard observe the sorry results: “Privileged leaders live in luxury and are paid huge salaries, while most aboriginal people rely on social assistance. And yet, despite the obvious policy failure, the aboriginal leadership, governments, and the general public continue to accept the argument that land claims and self-government are the answer to aboriginal problems.”
Currently, the federal government alone expends more than $8 billion a year on aboriginal programming. That’s close to $30,000 for an aboriginal family of four. Yet most aboriginals still live in communities beset with the oppressive levels of crime, poverty and addictions.
What can be done? Widdowson and Howard persuasively argue that the first requirement is to eliminate the primary cause of aboriginal deprivation, which they identify as the widespread persistence among aboriginals of the dysfunctional features of a stone-age culture.
All too many aboriginals lack the skills and discipline required for productive employment, because they are still wedded to the superstitions, undisciplined work habits and closure to new ideas typical of pre-literate cultures. The authors write: “It is the persistence of these obsolete cultural features that has maintained the development gap, preventing the integration of many aboriginal peoples into the Canadian social dynamic.”
And it’s this cultural deprivation, not any lack of intelligence, which accounts for the calamity that fewer than 40 per cent of adult Inuit and Indians living on reserves have completed secondary school. That’s 50 percentage points below the national average.
To make matters worse, many schools run by aboriginal elites focus on “traditional knowledge.” Widdowson and Howard insist that instead of clinging to the shibboleth of aboriginal self-government, competent governmental authorities should intervene wherever necessary to assure that aboriginal children have the same access as all other children to quality schooling that upholds universal educational standards for reading, writing and arithmetic.
Of course, Widdowson and Howard are not alone in recognizing that ever more massive government handouts to aboriginal governments have manifestly failed to improve the lot of most aboriginals. Tom Flanagan, the conservative former chief of staff to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, made the same point eight years ago in his fine book First Nations, Second Thoughts only to have his ideas dismissed by progressive Canadians as “racist” and “right wing.”
Let us hope for the sake of Canada’s long-suffering aboriginal peoples that Widdowson and Howard get a more serious hearing. No open-minded reader of their treatise can fail to agree with their conclusion: “A real left-wing analysis of aboriginal policy requires a critical eye rather than a bleeding heart. Addressing the aboriginal question entails understanding its root causes, not glorifying the educational deficiencies, dependency, and dysfunction that currently plague the native population.”