A few weeks ago I was horrified to read about the 25 year long water problems that continue to plague the Neskantaga First Nation in North-Western Ontario ~ yes you read that right: it’s been 25 years since these Canadians have had clean, potable water! I begged the government to Do Something! and I offered one concrete idea based upon by near certain knowledge of what the Canadian Armed Forces can and have done for people overseas. One of my readers, a retired colonel in our Military Engineering branch confirmed that what I suggested was doable.
Now I read, in a report by Campbell Clark in the Globe and Mail, that the main problems are a combination of political over-promising and bureaucratic ineptitude. I am going to blame Justin Trudeau for pretty much all of the political over-promising: he made it a centrepiece of his 2015 election campaign and then totally failed to follow through. He has to wear at least a large part of the bureaucratic ineptitude, too, because he’s been prime minister of Canada for over five years. He’s failed, again.
OK, I can hear you saying: if you’re so smart how would you fix things?
For a start I would stick with the outlines of my earlier proposal: I would ask the Army to help, right now, using existing technology. We would declare this a disaster ~ and if Canadians going without clean water for 25 years doesn’t qualify as a disaster then I don’t know what does ~ and send the Canadian Armed Forces’ Disaster Assistance Response Team (the DART) to the Neskantaga First Nation and tell them to fix whatever needs fixing ~ using the Indigenous Services department’s budget. When they finished there we would buy them a new water purification system and send them the next First Nation that has a water disaster on its hands. People overseas will have to wait or we’ll have to build a second DART.
Next I would ask the Army and the Canadian manufacturers of water purification systems to work together with First Nations corporations, like Matawa First Nations Management, to develop (at the Indigenous Services department’s expense) concrete, workable plans to install, operate and maintain, over their complete life-cycle, water purification and waste disposal systems and the electrical power and the power and water distribution systems necessary to support them.
Finally I would change the culture in the Indigenous Services department, starting with Jean-François Tremblay, the Deputy Minister (head civil servant). I have no idea who he is; for all I know he is an excellent fellow; but he has to go ‘pour encourager les autres‘ as Voltaire said. The Indigenous Services department would become a true support service agency, providing resources, mainly, to First Nations corporations, like Matawa First Nations Management, to provide direct services to individual First Nations.
Now some, many actually, will argue that too many First Nations are not ready to assume responsibility for their own communities and there are too few companies like Matawa First Nations Management and they are already spread too thinly. I would agree to both statements as undeniable facts. The matter of fixing First Nations leadership is political ~ with the First Nations themselves ~ and I do not have a solution other than a mix of patience and pressure. I am 99.99% certain that the people in Canada’s First Nations do not want weak and corrupt leadership and many, many First Nations leaders are anything but. But it will be a daunting challenge to weed out the bad and encourage the good. Helping them to get the leadership they deserve is a challenge … but it is one which must be faced with political courage and conviction.
Building more management and technical capacity is easier. Here, again, the Canadian Armed Forces can help. I remember, in the 1960s, when some Army schools has special programmes to train First Nations civilians in a range of skills ~ technology, logistics and management, I think ~ military officers and specialists did the teaching and the students left and returned to their communities. That sort of thing can be done best by successful First Nations corporations, aided by community colleges and universities and, in some cases, by the Canadian Armed Forces, too.
It will all take time and money, lots of money, and some of both will be wasted on bad ideas and dead ends. But the only way for First Nations to thrive is to take responsibility for their own destinies and then to succeed, and fail, too, on their own merits and through their own efforts. But all Canadians owe them a helping hand.