Archive for June, 2011

Why Did A White Guy Write About the IRS?

It’s a question that I’m often asked and at times during the book’s six year gestation, I sometimes wondered myself. There were many reasons, including being raised and educated within a Catholic environment where although fortunate to never have faced the abuse experienced by Blue, I was shocked by the revelations that began to surface concerning people I had been taught to trust and revere.

Everything on this subject that I read or watched on television was reported in a formal documentary fashion and although vivid and factual, the stories didn’t really have that much effect on me because like most white Canadians, I didn’t personally know any Indian/Aboriginal/First Nations people which made it difficult to internalize the issue. 

I felt that a gripping story about an empathetic protagonist with whom readers of all backgrounds could identify, would be a more effective means of raising public awareness and understanding about what actually happened to “real people” within the Indian Residential School System for almost a hundred years.

This is exactly what is happening. More and more readers are telling me that they have come to care about the book’s main character, Blue Saltwater, and that they found themselves wincing for him when things went bad and routing for him as he fought to overcome the challenges he faced. Some have said they felt sad for Blue and others have said they immediately think of him whenever there is something in the news about First Nations and the residential schools. This is what I call building awareness!

As an increasing number of Canadians begin to know and care about Blue the person, a more informed dialogue will emerge that will allow us to heal the wounds of the past and build a positive future for all our children.

Human Rights Act Extended to First Nations

Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Duncan just announced that people living on First Nations reserves will now have the same human rights protection as other Canadians. Previously, the Canadian Human Rights Act which prevents discrimination on grounds of race, religion or gender did not apply to the Indian Act. This is another encouraging example where past grievances are being put behind us, and both govt. and aboriginal leaders are beginning to embrace working collaboratively for the benefit of everyone involved especially the young whose future is at stake. Kudos to the Canadian government for prioritizing this.

This new approach is very good news for all aboriginal people but especially the youth where the high school graduation rate is still a dismal 41% versus 77% for Canadians as a whole. My congratulations and whole-hearted support goes out to all those like Roberta Jamieson of the National Aboriginal Achievement Foundation who are working very hard to change these troubling statistics.

I’m also beginning to get alot of great feedback from the aboriginal youth community out there and I really appreciate all your positive comments. Why not send me some of your thoughts of what you think will work better to improve educational outcomes for yourselves and your friends.

Oil Companies Must Step Up To The Plate

Companies who are profiting from their operations in the Canadian oil patch must now take the lead and not wait for slow moving government programs before making significant investments in aboriginal youth employment, entrepreneurship and education. With the massive oil sands projects currently underway, this is an exceptional moment for social responsibility and a wonderful opportunity to help soften their oily image. With a youth unemployment level approaching twenty percent, private sector ingenuity that is inclusive to this rapidly growing youth population will insure that these long-term investments remain secure for years to come. Doing anything less will surely put them in jeopardy.

Aboriginal Education Today (Part Two)

According to National Chief Shawn Atleo, an aboriginal person is more apt to end up in jail than to graduate from high school. Not a good thing! At the same time, he made encouraging comments about participation in the “new fur trade”, referring to First Nations communities becoming partners in the proposed mining, transmission, and pipeline projects that are being planned for the future. If First Nations youth want to get a shot at the “good jobs” in these projects and not just the ones digging ditches or paddling canoes, they’ll need to reverse the statistics and graduate from high school. The opportunities of a lifetime are on the horizon and now is the time to start preparing.

Ottawa and Native leaders Commit to Improve Reserve Life

The Conservative government and first nation leaders have agreed to transform the schools, economies, and quality of life on reserves across Canada.

On the surface, it appears that a fresh cooperative approach is being taken by both the government and first nations to work as partners on these vitally important matters, rather than continuing with the one-sided approach that has been shoved down the throats of the aboriginal population for so many years.

However, the responsibility for success will rely on courageous leadership from both groups so that the fear and mistrust of the past are not allowed to hi-jack this initiative into another series of costly time wasting confrontations with personal agendas being put ahead of what is best for the aboriginal community and the youth in particular.

I congratulate both government and first nations leaders for embarking on this challenge, but I also warn them to be aware that time is of the essence. If, in the words of National Chief Atleo, significant change is not soon “felt, tasted, and experienced” by a young, restless, and growing aboriginal population, they may take things into their own hands and begin to agitate in unpredictable ways for an Aboriginal Spring just as their Arab counterparts are doing today.