By Drew Hayden Taylor
Originally published in January 2014
Every morning I wake up and, coming from my radio, I hear the latest update on the ongoing goings on in the Canadian Senate.
I am of two minds on the topic. First of all, as someone who’s spent about 25 years in Canadian theatre, it’s hard to argue with the theatrical appeal of what’s happening there. Not since Pierre Trudeau has Canadian politics actually become so … interesting. And entertaining. It’s like the movie Wall Street meets Parliament Hill.
“Padding your expenses, for lack of a better term, is good.”
After getting my morning update, I then as usual go through the five stages of witnessing Canadian politics. The first is Astonishment–these are people appointed for their accomplishments. The second is Shame–the Senate and Rob Ford, Canadian politics. Is it too late to repeal Confederation? The third is Anger–I used to believe everything Mike Duffy and Pamela Wallin said when they were on television. I may have to completely revise my understanding of what went on in the 1990s and 2000s. The fourth is Amusement–self-explanatory.
But there is a little known fifth stage, enjoyed only by the First Nations people of Canada. And ironically, it’s a German word. Schadenfreude, which means ‘satisfaction or pleasure felt at someone else’s misfortune.’
You are confused. I understand why.
Was it just two years ago when the federal government was all in a tizzy over supposed financial mismanagement in the community of Attawapiskat, ignoring for the most part the horrendous housing shortage the village was wrestling with? A supposed mishandling of funds so severe they imposed the dreaded ‘third party management’ solution? A non-Native administrator was parachuted in to Attawapiskat to save the day for the Native people. Ironically, it took less than a day for Chief Theresa Spence to boot him back out, taking the government to court for a judicial review of the appointment.
Attawapiskat won, and the feds sent them a cheque for $136,132. I think this was one of the incidents that inspired the Idle No More Movement.
I am having the same misgivings about the state of finances for those involved in the Canadian Senate. This is my tax money at work…. And yes, the majority of Native people do pay taxes. But it does make you understand why some may refuse to. Still, the Senate looks like they need serious help. Should we…. Could we… send in a ‘third party manager’ to whip the place into shape? If it’s good enough for Native communities, why wouldn’t it be sufficient for any other organization or group of people supported by taxpayer funds to have the same sort of judicious and sensible intervention? And how’s this for ‘tit for tat.’ Let’s make this particular manager a Native person! Why not?
‘Being in the red’ has more than just financial connotations.
One of the other popular misconceptions about Native communities is that we are all poverty stricken, dozens upon dozens of Attawapiskats just looking for any excuse to run a third party manager out of town, just to liven up our day and take our minds off issues like racism and an unfair judicial system.
The truth is there are 630-odd First Nations communities spread across Canada. And if you have the time, take a random cross cut of any 630-odd non-Native small towns across that same Canada, and you might be surprised to discover there are several quite poor and not-so-well-off towns in that mixture. And a lot of middle class communities. And a few well off towns.
Same variety with the Native community. Many reserves, like mine for example, are surprisingly middle class. It’s exactly the kind of place middle America would place its family sitcoms like The Andy Griffith Show or Leave It To Beaver (though our beaver wouldn’t be riding a bike or wearing a baseball cap).
So, here is my suggestion. I humbly suggest sending our General Manager to Ottawa to see if they could knock some sense (and cents) into the Senate, using some good old fashion Indian And Northern Affairs Canada inspired financial planning. I haven’t cleared this with Curve Lake’s Chief and Council yet, but I don’t think the Senate is in any condition to turn down help, regardless of its origins.
All the time, the First Nations people of Canada will be viewing this through a thick veil of schadenfreude.
There has to be an Ojibway translation for that.