The Wrong Kind of Help for Native Women

The wrong kind of help for native women


The National Post 2004 

In Barbara Gowdy's luminous novel, The White Bone, a member of a matrilineal tribe of at-risk elephants is called She-Bores-and- Bores. There are many human candidates for such a name, but none more worthy than Tuesday's robed and enthroned Adrienne Clarkson, tramping dutifully around the stations of the ultra-liberal cross. Not one new idea in the whole mess. Worse, it seems no one will be safe from government in the next 18 months. There will be healing bureaucrats everywhere, the healing to be done with lots of lovely other-people's money.

Unless, that is, you are truly at risk, and from a matrilineal tribe, in which case, a city morgue waits for you.

On Monday, Amnesty International released Stolen Sisters, a take- down of Injun culture, Canadian version. It is not a pretty thing to read, though rather more gripping than the Throne Speech. Read in concert, the two documents make an ironic comment on the actual result of federal policy. Somehow the deepest underclass in Canada, the ones the government has been most keen on "protecting" these past four decades, Indian women, are more likely to end up as sex- trade workers, the sole supporters of multiple children, addicted to anything they can get to ease the pain, and likely to die horribly, at the hands of, generally, a white man.

Native women and children have been pimped out to the white man in this country since the late 17th century. Many Tender Ties, Sylvia Van Kirk's 1983 history of native and half-breed women in the fur trade, runs through the various white male mal-accommodations with native women. Sir George Simpson, Governor of the Hudson's Bay territory for nearly half a century, had 80 or so illegitimate "blanket children" alone.

As for Amnesty International, it has become increasingly radicalized over the past decade. While insisting its agenda is non- political, the organization often presents conditions in the first world as catastrophic, while turning a near-sighted eye toward the insanity in developing countries: This is an organization that purports to support the cause of freeing women around the world -- yet had narry a kind word for the U.S. overthrow of Afghanistan's misogyinistic Taliban regime. Thus, though it highlights an important problem, the Stolen Sisters report is over-stated, and comes up with the usual cause: racism -- and the usual prescription: more government money.

Hello? Not working. The willful creation of a parallel culture with white money, and the subsequent corruption of that culture, evidenced in band leaders' theft of public funds, has already caused an enormous rift in this country. The Globe and Mail journalist John Stackhouse, who hitchhiked across Canada in 2001, called white perceptions of native privilege and corruption "Canada's most hidden anger," and the split between natives and immigrant Canadians the country's greatest division. It has been the women of Indian country that forced native corruption front and centre in recent years. But nothing has changed. The Throne Speech ignored the investigations of grass-roots native activists such as Leona Freed, Rita Galloway and Yolanda Redcalf, and instead promises more money and more programs run through the same band-dominated aboriginal establishment.

More money for band officials means there will be more child whores and addicted women for Vancouver's Downtown Eastside -- the neighbourhood from which many of the dead native women detailed in the Amnesty Report disappeared. With a sky-high high school drop out rate, and no marketable skills, what else to do but prostitute yourself?

On Monday, Darcy Rezak, managing director of the Vancouver Board of Trade, stepped up to say that Canada has a crime problem. Nationally, our crime rate is near the bottom of the G-7. Yet Vancouverites simply tolerate as normal facts of life "aggressive panhandling, discarded syringes, smashed car windows, open drug dealing, bank holdups, and breaking into our homes." Overall, B.C.'s crime rate is 40% worse than Canada's as a whole, and the Downtown Eastside is 50% worse again. Far from being victims of racism, disappearing native women disappearing could be said to be, um, how do I put this, victims of crime.

Vancouver's oh-so-tolerant courts decant criminals with astonishing ease, and the Downtown Eastside is a broadminded stew of social housing, lively street culture and the cheapest prices for heroin north of Mexico, all of which attract crooks from across the globe. Many millions more were just announced to renovate the old Woodward's building, to improve the profile of the neighbourhood. No doubt, the cost of doing business in such a high-crime area will be factored into any brave businessman's taxes. Here we have a virtuous economic cycle, Paul-Martin style.

Is there a solution? Possibly. In London, homeless enclaves have been snuffed out by well-organized outreach workers according to a recent Economist report. Equally, in New York, Rudy Giuliani's zero- tolerance approach to crime turned Times Square into Disneyland. Less colourful yes, but much safer for those at risk.

Course that would put a whole whack of bureaucrats out of work.