Something about the news that Manitoba leads the nation in teenagers who kill sparked Ron Evans, Grand Chief of the Assembly of Manitoba First Nations, into action.
Maybe it's because he knows that a hefty proportion of the 43 youths awaiting trial for one homicide or another are, in common parlance, "aboriginal in appearance."
But for once, he was making sense.
"There seems to be a lot of initiatives out there, but the numbers are growing..." he said.
"We need to take a look and review what is working, what is not working. If it was working, the numbers would be reversing, right? But they're not," Evans told reporters.
And he faced head on allegations that the youth violence problem tracks back to First Nations.
"If we're the problem then work with us," he said. "We cannot do it by ourselves," he said. "It's going to take a collective effort."
But it wasn't long before Evans reverted to form. Aboriginal kids need to connect with their culture. Blah blah. Poverty is the root cause of crime. Blah blah. Tougher anti-gun, anti-gang, anti-crime laws aren't needed.
"How is a tough crime bill going to help people to change?" said Evans. "Many of our people are caught in the cycle. They're stuck."
And to prove how stuck he is in his own go-nowhere cycle, he announced he wants to convene a roundtable on youth violence with representatives from all three levels of government.
Yep, that's what's needed. Another meeting. Followed by a task force to collect more information.
Then some follow-up meetings. And an intermediate report.
To be followed by a final report. With recommendations. Lots of recommendations.
Oh, and funding. At every step of the way. Lots of funding.
Christmas is coming, you know, and those per diems will only go so far.
On Friday Manitoba Grand Chief Ron Evans had a pre-roundtable mini-meeting with Winnipeg Grand Chief Sam Katz. Right on script, they came out smiling for the television photo-op. They had, they said, agreed that youth crime was a problem and needed to be addressed.
Wow, it's amazing what insight a meeting can achieve.
Ron Evans doesn't need a roundtable. Neither do Gary Doer, Stephen Harper, or Sam Katz. Neither do the citizens of Manitoba.
But if he's serious about addressing what's not working, then this is the right place to start.
The Black Rod's Roundtable won't cost the taxpayer a cent. Somebody call Ron Evans.
Let's cut to the chase, to what we call The 12 Steps.
1. Stop Making Excuses.
As with every recovery program, the first step is admitting you have a problem. So, no more poverty, no more residential schools, no more colonialism, no more racism, no more FASD, no more (fill in the blank). No more excuses. Period. As long as you have an excuse at the ready you don't have to change your behaviour. It's always somebody else's problem that you've failed.
When you replace blame with personal responsibility, then the world shifts on its axis. Now 'poverty' becomes "do you have a job?" "Do you have the education to get a job?" "Do you have personality problems that keep you from getting a job?" "Do you have an addiction that keeps you out of the workforce?" Each and every question has a solution.
But unless you're willing to take step one, Ron, then realize you're condemning another generation of native children to the same life that you're complaining about or worse.
Thirty years ago, Manitoba saw an influx of what was then known as "boat people." Vietnamese refugees. You want to talk poverty? You want to talk culture? Here were thousands of peasants brought from a tropical rain forest to the coldest city of its size on the planet. Ripped from their cultural roots, living in poverty worse than any Indian reserve, what happened to them?
Well, last time we looked, they were hard working taxpayers, often running sweaty corner stores or getting up early to go to their factory jobs to raise their families and watch their children collect university degrees rather than criminal records.
Twenty-five years ago we saw a new batch of immigrants, what we then called East Indians to differentiate them from the local variety. Talk about racism. With their beards and turbans they attracted the evil attention of every lunatic in the country. Where are they now?
Well, they eventually bought the taxi company that gave them their first jobs in this country. We see them in Parliament and in the hospitals. We never heard police ask for help finding a suspect "Sikh in appearance."
And the native people who were here when the Vietnamese arrived. Still whining about their lost culture. And the aboriginal people who saw the Indians arrive? Still whining about how they're all in jail because of racism. And still on welfare or begging for money downtown.
No excuses. That's the start line.
2. Stop breeding like rabbits.
When you have exactly as many children as you can afford to feed, clothe, shelter and school you will be amazed how quickly poverty rates will fall.
Popping out 8, 9, 10, 11 children is a sure way to consign them all to a life of want. Starting to breed when you're a teenager solidifies the cycle.
Ron, there are dozens of programs engaged in "family-planning." You can quickly determine which ones work and which don't by comparing the number of births next year with the number this year. It's not rocket science.
3. Go to school.
Not you personally, Ron. You've got a job as a professional Indian.
But when you're talking about breaking the cycle of youth violence, here's the crossroad. Everybody, and we mean everybody, acknowledges that without the necessary education qualifications aboriginal youth are doomed to a marginal existence.
This may come as a surprise, Ron, but education in Canada is FREE up to Grade 12. All you have to do is show up.
Okay, Ron, take a breath here and review Step One.
We keep hearing how hard it is for native children to complete their education because of their disfunctional home lives. Here's a radical suggestion---residential schools. They live in safe, comfortable surroundings and go to school. Simple.
Manitoba Chiefs wanted control of education on their reserves. How's that working? There's no room for political interference in schools. Is there a high turnover of teachers? Then you've got a problem. Is the Chief the problem? Teachers abused and scared off reserves? Unacceptable. (Review Step One again.) To repeat--unacceptable. Under any circumstances.
Consider education the life's blood of aboriginal children and remove any threat to it instantly. Direct every available cent to the school system -- even at the expense of spending on health, travel, lawyers, Governance Houses, and roundtables.
Treat teachers like gods -- for they control the future of your children.
4. Stop defending criminals and other low-life.
Matthew Dumas has become the poster boy of Inner City native youth. A convicted criminal on probation runs from police then threatens a police officer with the favoured tool of car thieves and you elevate him to the status of saint. What's wrong with this picture?
Ron, you yourself eulogized Tannis Bird, a 22-year-old youth worker killed as a passenger in a car containing two gang members she had been partying with, one of whom left behind his gun when he ran from the scene. You couldn't gloss over the gang connection fast enough in April.
How are we to take your sudden conversion to gang-fighter?
We've seen a horrible string of unsolved murders involving aboriginal prostitutes. And almost every time the dead woman's family insists we focus on her (always) angelic life and not her lifestyle. If you find it embarassing that your daughters go out every night to spread their legs for strange men in back alleys, then maybe you should do something to get them out of the life before they're dead.
When your first reaction is a knee-jerk defence of the very people the rest of society doesn't want in their neighbourhoods, then don't blame the public for lumping you in with the trash they want out. Cull the criminals from the herd. Make it clear that that sort of behaviour will not be tolerated. If they need a hug, call their mommas.
Reward the right behaviour and punish the bad. Even amoebas can learn that way.
5. Buy a mirror.
What kind of a message is the so-called leadership of First Nations in Manitoba sending to their young?
When the band constable at Paungassi admits he's the local bootlegger, we wonder why he isn't fired immediately? Why does the chief and council on the allegedly dry reserve turn a blind eye? The expectation is that the local authorities would immediately hire a law officer who obeys the band regulations, even if that person comes off-reserve. Instead the youth learn that rules are irrelevant.
A judge revealed how Grand Chief Ron Evans ran a dictatorial regime on his home reserve to the extent of cutting a councillor's pay to the bare minimum allowed by law to punish him for disagreeing with the Chief and council.
The judge said Evans essentially tried to blackmail the councillor into becoming a team player. Evans now sits as Grand Chief of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs as an example of how far you can get by being a law unto yourself on Manitoba Indian reserves.
He's still doing better than Margaret Swan, the former Grand Chief of the Southern Chiefs Organization. She stole $35,000 from her own band. After a lengthy period of denying the charges, she pleaded guilty and was given a one-year suspended sentence.
Chief Louis Stevenson of the Peguis First Nation, was considered an honorable spokesman for native issues until he was arrested for firing a handgun in the washroom of the Stock Exchange Hotel.
Ron Fontaine, former chief of the Sagkeeng First Nation (aka Fort Alexander reserve), had a quick answer when authorities started answering questions about the fraud, kickbacks and wide misuse of funding to the Virginia Fontaine Addictions Foundation. He blamed the controversy on a "white media agenda." No reporter asked his opinion when the charges started flying and people started going to jail.
And, of course, let's not forget Hollow Water. Why bother with courts to settle issues when extortion and threats go a lot farther. The gangs -- that Evans says he's concerned about?-- the gangs couldn't get away with this stuff.
Society at large has a long list of politicians gone bad. The Libranos, anyone? But we don't make excuses for them. We purge them as fast as we can and expect long apologies, or jail sentences at least, before they can come back in any fashion.
Here's a suggestion. Start with an aggressive, independent press to hold officials accountable. And show some backbone as an organization or even as individuals in forcing the incompetent and criminal to resign. Weeding out the bad is not a sign of weakness.
6. Face Facts
There's no denying that native people seem to be more susceptible to becoming addicted to alcohol and maybe other intoxicants. Maybe its genetic. And yet we never hear the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs calling for research into the addictions gene, if that is what it is. But in the meantime, there's one thing that Evans and his crew can do to address the addictions problem--- send a clear message: Addiction to anything will not be treated as an excuse. If you need help, we'll find it for you. But WE WILL NOT ENABLE YOU to destroy your life.
Thunderbird House is the sad example of where a refusal to face facts has lead the aboriginal people of Manitoba. When it opened, it was touted as a building that was going to be a shining reflection of native culture. In a sense, it's all that.
The flock of brain-addled, slobbering solvent sniffers that hung around the bus shack south of the Bell Hotel has crawled across the street to hang around Thunderbird House. They have to share the space with the passed out drunks and homeless vagrants planted face first in the grass until the soup kitchen at the Salvation Army opens up.
Any attempt to help these unfortunates out of their zombie lifestyle is seen as an attack on native culture. To that extent, the native community has adopted sniffers and drunks as a normal extension of their culture. Does this give youth a shining example of their heritage?
And let's not forget about the excuse du jour--FASD. Its a huge problem that you refuse to address. That's right. We said refuse.
The solution is simple. And its not pamphlets. If women insist of drinking while pregnant, they have to be incarcerated until they deliver. That and only that will break the cycle.
We have the right to lock up tuberculosis carriers if they're a threat to spread the disease. What about the disease of mental disorder?
Are you prepared to do something about the FASD epidemic? Or do you want a ready-made excuse handy?
7. Buy a calender.
It's 2007. In a few months it will be 2008. We're in the 21st Century.
Whenever you laud a return to traditional ways and what your elders say, ask the simple question, does any this apply to the 21st Century?
What do your elders know about Facebook and Bebo and Xbox and Tupac Shakur and crack?
What part of that traditional life in the bush covers gangster rap and Al Pacino as Scarface?
Is there a chapter on stealing canoes that can be applied to stealing cars?
Life is a thousand times faster than life was when the youngest of the elders was born. There's no going back.
8. Get a tattoo, or maybe a t-shirt, that reads Work is Hard.
That's right. Work is hard. Ask anyone who works.
Getting up at 7 a.m. to get to work on time is hard, especially in winter. Working with idiot bosses is hard. Working on beautiful sunny days is hard. Working until closing time when you're tired and hungry is hard. Working when you would rather be at the beach is hard. Working when you'd rather sleep is hard. Working after you've said goodbye to your children is hard. Going to work by car or bus is hard. Coming home after a hard days work isn't any easier. Shoehorning errands into a word day is hard. But we do it.
We do it because we get a paycheque. And that lets us buy things. And lets us improve our lives. And lets us take trips. And lets us send out children to university to get better jobs than we've got so they don't' have work as hard. Except they will, only it will be hard in a different way. Because, you know, work is hard.
Gang members don't want to work.
They want to sleep till after noon, party all night, and spend as little time as possible selling drugs for cash.
Where do you think they get the idea that they don't have to work for a living?
You can start with the get-rich-quick-schemes that the various Chiefs trot out regularly.
Today it's gambling.
Get somebody else to build you a casino, get suckers to give you their money, and sit back and count your money without having to work.
Tomorrow it's Hydro.
Get somebody else, like the government,to pay for half a power plant which they give to you, get the sucker taxpayers to pay you for nothing, and sit back and count your money without having to work.
Or, better yet, get Hydro to string transmission lines over your land, get the government to give you ownership of the lines, get the utility to pay you for using the air, and sit back and count your money without having to work.
Do you detect a pattern?
9. Jump at every opportunity.
There are 17,000 jobs unfilled in Manitoba. How can that be when the First Nations bleat endlessly about unemployment? The Assembly of First Nations can be proactive. Every fall dozens of jobs open up as summer students go back to work. There must be a hundred alleged native employment projects in existence. Do they prepare aboriginal youths to take these jobs? There shouldn't be a single minimum wage job open in Manitoba.
What's a minimum wage job? Something that can be done by a reasonably intelligent, clean looking person with a desire to work. Is there part of that sentence that native people can't meet?
The Assembly of First Nations can make it clear that if you get pregnant at 15 you can't use a lack of child care as an excuse why you can't hold a job. And if you tattoo your neck, you can't say people are prejudiced. And if you dress and talk like a gang member you can't say people you haven't got a job because of poverty.
That was your choice. It's not because of racism, it's not because your daddy went to a residential school, and it's not because you're poor. It's because you're stupid.
Help the youth who want jobs to get them. Target the job in the summer and be ready to get it in the fall. If an employment initiative can't place a dozen students every September, it's a failure. Multiply that by the dozens of employment initiatives and you have a solution to youth unemployment.
Simple if you really want to find a solution to youth unemployment.
10. Stop wasting money.
We've heard it a million times. 'The arena burned down because the fire engine wasn't working because there wasn't enough money to keep it ready.' Baloney.
Reserves receive a set amount of money each year specifically to keep their fire equipment in working order (it used to be $85,000 a year but that was in the Jurassic Age, so the amount must top $100,000 today).
Politicians and journalists never ask, where did the money go? That would be politically incorrect. Especially since everyone knows where the money went. It was spent. How? Don't ask. You're a racist if you want to know.
First Nations, especially in Manitoba, have a suspiciously hard time managing money. Which may be why the records are destroyed when the band offices catch fire so many times.
Yet there never seems to be a shortage of money for lawyers. Or travel. Or houses in Winnipeg for Chiefs of reserves which don't exactly border Winnipeg.
The Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs is prepared to fight tooth and nail to prevent audits of reserve spending. Why? Here's a wild idea. Don't cry poverty when you have money to waste. Or at the very least, account for every penny with the assurance you spent it wisely.
11. Organize a search party to look for the lost men.
The surest way to be poor and stay poor is to be an unwed mother. And that just about defines aboriginal life in Manitoba.
Where are the men. Where are the fathers?
It's not our responsibility to raise your children. Does the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs have a deadbeat dads databank? Start one.
And start suing each and every one regardless of age for back child support. Show them you will hound them forever until they live up to their obligations.
The first step to curing a dysfunctional system is to repair the dysfunction. Inserting fathers who support their children into the equation is a big step in the equation.
They can't pay because they're in jail? Good.
Support the federal legislation calling for more mandatory jail sentences.
Sending these guys to prison for long terms keeps them from impregnating more girls and reduces the unwed, unsupported mother numbers.
12. Stop Living in Fantasyland
Credibility is something you have to work hard to get and work harder to keep. Once you lose it, you never get all of it back.
Take the myth of The 500 "missing or murdered." We exposed the truth of that fantasy in The Black Rod http://blackrod.blogspot.com/2007/10/500-genesis-of-myth.html. Flogging it further just exposes it for what it is-a money grab.
Then there's the demand for-we're not kidding--$2 billion for native languages. We're not sure which of the myriad of native organizations floated that Hindenberg. But lets face it (#6), Indian languages are deader than Latin and less useful than hieroglyphics.
When we read that native students lost a month of classes because their reserve took that long to pay the school division its share of education costs, we feel sorry for the kids who have to work doubly hard to catch up.
But when we then read that native "leaders" want to waste money teaching their children a useless language, we wonder how much damage smoking sweetgrass does to the brain.
How many times have you heard that aboriginal youth join gangs to find the family they don't have at home. Awwww. It sure sounded good when some sociology prof spun it the first time.
If aboriginal youth want a family, they should join the army. Nothing builds bonds tighter than being in combat with your bro's. And you get a paid education if you stick around long enough.
Now, return to Step 1 and repeat until results appear.