The Underfunding of Indian Country

Posted on July 5, 2012

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The Missing Boardwalks of Port Essington

I remember living in Port Essington in the late 1950s.  At one end of Port Essington, actually near where I was staying with my Uncle Gus and Aunt Irene, was the Indian reserve.  It was just another part of town, as far as I was concerned.  But there was an objective way of telling it apart from the rest of the town even without knowing its legal designation:  it was the part of town where there were no boardwalks.

There were boardwalks everywhere in Essington, but not in that one place.

I really didn’t understand why this was until I read a history of Port Essington.  Not that the histories knew about the missing sidewalks on the Indian side of town.  Histories of Port Essington tend to be told from a White point-of-view, and it’s sometimes hard to reconcile their picture of Port Essington with my own experience of it.  There was something in one of them that explained about the sidewalks, nevertheless.

That’s because the histories explained where the other sidewalks had come from.  Port Essington being a place under provincial control, the province had built them, just as in other places the province builds roads and dams and power grids.  But the province wouldn’t have jurisdiction on the Indian reserve, so it wouldn’t have built any sidewalks there.

The federal government had the jurisdiction, but they didn’t either.

Now the reason I’m telling this little story is because of a recent poll of Canadians reported in the media.  A majority of Canadians thought too much tax money was being spent on Aboriginal people, and the tax money already spent was being systematically wasted.

But the real dirt truth which Canadians and the media seem to have missed is represented by those absent sidewalks on the Indian reserve in Port Essington.  Dirt pathways.  On Indian reserves wherever you found them, dirt pathways instead of boardwalks, gravel instead of pavement, tents instead of homes.

In another example, despite Aboriginal people having a gigantic educational deficit because of generations of destructive schooling (think residential schools), less is spent per student on Aboriginal children than on non-Aboriginal children.  Much less.

Much of this is because where White people live there are provincial and municipal and federal governments providing services.  They get sidewalks.  Where Aboriginal people live, only the Federal government provides services.  They don’t get sidewalks.

Contrary to popular belief, White people get significantly more benefits from government than Aboriginal people and always have, because they get benefits from three levels of government, not just one.

So the perception that Aboriginal people get a soft touch or a whole slew of extra services from government, that’s just a lie.  It’s the opposite of what is true.

So why, when the story came out, when the story was in a prominent place in every newspaper across Canada and the perfect opportunity had arisen, did not a single newspaper point out the lie?

Perhaps because it’s simply too hard to tell the truth.

Perhaps because it’s another kind of inconvenient truth that White Canadians, including the Canadian media, doesn’t want to face.

They don’t want to face the fact that the Canadian neglect of Aboriginal people has left a paper trail which the accountants can follow.  And following that trail, they’ve found, as far as government spending goes, Aboriginal people just aren’t as equal as White people.

But the truth won’t matter, will it, as long as the media elects to report on Canadian ignorance without writing even one word in contradiction of it?

And just when does the media’s silence become complicity in the lie?

When does the media’s silence become racism?

Perhaps it already has.