Friday, January 11, 2013

First Nations: The media misses the point, again

An unserviced, one-room home in Attawapiskat in 2011. When did covering the audit become more important than covering Third World living conditions on reserves? 

Here is what a lot of people want to believe about the Aboriginal Spring in Canada. They hold fast to the idea that the only thing behind native unrest is a bottomless lust for public subsidies. They want to believe that Canada has been just and generous to this misfit people who stubbornly won’t assimilate. 

They cling to the notion that, left to their own devices, aboriginals are unable to govern themselves and will quickly fall into corruption.

And so, a sizeable posse in the media obliged in the current circumstances. Armed with a leaked “audit” of Chief Theresa Spence’s Attawapiskat band, an audit that went back to 2006 (even though Spence had only been chief since 2010), she was lassoed and dragged behind a horse for all to see.

The Attawapiskat angle was so much more tabloid-friendly than history. It was character assassination by dull razor blade. There was no documentation for the expenditure of millions of dollars in public monies. There was no due diligence. She drove a fancy car. She gave her boyfriend a job. And by the way, the boyfriend once went bankrupt. When Indians weren’t sniffing glue, getting stoned or sobering up in the drunk tank, they were taking the public for a ride.

Ignorance and the search for certainty seem to enjoy each other’s company. Chief Theresa Spence and the Idle No More movement have been well and truly Harpered. There is not much doubt about who leaked the audit — the same people who squealed when the auditor-general’s interim report on G8/20 spending was “illegally leaked” for “pure” political reasons as Tony Clement fumed during the last federal election.

Significant media have assisted the government in its smearing of aboriginals. There has been a clamour in editorials for accountability and transparency — yes, from a representative of the poorest one per cent in the country.

But if a lack of paperwork is a crime, then what can be said of the government’s fifty-million dollar downpayment on Tony Clement’s re-election in Muskoka?

Didn’t the government itself say that it didn’t have time to pass legislation to authorize significant parts of the G8/20 spending? And where was the due diligence in selecting a new fighter jet that will cost $30 billion more to acquire and operate than the Harper government admitted? And was it really worth $45,000 of public money to send the PM to a Yankees game? Just missing paperwork, nothing more.

Ever notice how many journalists are working both sides of the canal these days — journalists in the Senate, journalists writing the PM’s speeches, journalists in the public relations companies? Former journalists, that is.

The real story is whether Stephen Harper does something about 250 years of gross social injustice and usurpation. The symptoms of those two facts are well known — poverty, addiction, violent crime, stunted education and poor health care.

And then there is the housing crisis. At the end of 2011, the Assembly of First Nations was reporting that Canada’s reserves needed 85,000 new houses. The federal government is building houses at the rate of just over 2,000 per year.

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