proud northerners battle foreign academic

According to Leona Aglukkaq, Canada's minister of health, indigenous Canadians hunt every day. That's why they don't face food pressures.

According to Leona Aglukkaq, Canada’s minister of health, indigenous Canadians hunt every day.

That’s why they don’t face food pressures. Aglukkaq made her remarks in response to the findings of Olivier De Schutter, UN special rapporteur on the right to food, who declared himself “struck” by the “desperate situation” among Canada’s aboriginal people. He also found that 800,000 families, nearly two million Canadians, live day to day without knowing where their next meal is coming from.

Wikipedia describes Olivier De Schutter as a human rights expert, a Harvard graduate (PhD), who teaches international human rights law, European Union law and legal theory at the Universite catholique de Louvain and the College of Europe, a visiting professor at Columbia University, and a visiting scholar at American University Washington College of Law’s Academy on Human Rights and Humanitarian Law.

Or as Minister Aglukkaq puts it, he’s “an ignorant academic” whom she tried but failed to “educate” about the reality of indigenous people’s lives in Canada in a private meeting this week.

Aglukkaq based her dismissal of De Schutter on the fact that, though he visited remote First Nations communities in northern Manitoba, he included the Arctic in his report “without ever setting foot on the ground and walking in our kamiks for a day to get a good understanding of the limitations and opportunities we have as aboriginal people”.

Yukon MP Ryan Leef, styling himself as “a proud northerner,” echoed the minister’s statements, again taking a scathing tone when he described De Schutter as “this academic” who never came to the North on his two-week “vacation” in Canada. Like Aglukkaq, Leef believes that the real threat to food security for aboriginal Canadians comes from environmental activists and seal-hunt opponents.

I have, in fact, set foot on the ground in Ms Aglukkaq’s birthplace of Inuvik and walked around for a day, though I wore my own Kamiks. I’ve also lived in the Yukon for all of Mr. Leef’s lifetime, and I must say that despite this on-the-ground experience I find myself as ignorant as a foreign academic.

I have long harboured the belief that good nutrition was expensive and hard to get in First Nation communities, and that people there tend to be poorer than the general population. Fancy living surrounded by First Nations people all these years and not knowing that their food supply is secure, that they hunt every day, and that foreign-funded environmental radicals are the biggest threat to their way of life.

According to the 2006 census, half of all aboriginal Canadians live in cities. A study published in 2011 found that 60 per cent of urban aboriginals suffer “high rates of illness, poverty, hunger and substandard housing.”

The study offers no insight into what these people hunt every day, or how their poverty is exacerbated by the actions of radical environmentalists.

Closing the Gap, a campaign to raise awareness of First Nations poverty, provides the following information. One in four First Nations children and one in six non-First Nations children in Canada live in poverty.

Aboriginal people are four times more likely to experience hunger as a result of poverty. Per capita, governments spend less than half on First Nations than on the average Canadian, $8,754 compared to $18,724.

Aboriginal people on and off reserves suffer from a high degree of “homelessness, hunger and a lack of the basic necessities of life.”

Statistics on aboriginal poverty in Canada abound, but statistics are for academics, environmentalists, and foreigners. The Conservative government doesn’t need to listen to these, it has the expertise of Aglukkaq and Leef, and the indignation of Jason Kenney, immigration minister, who pointed out this week that the UN ranks Canada among the world’s best places to live. (Actually we’ve dropped from first place to sixth, mostly on Kenney’s watch, but who’s counting?)

Kenney reminded De Schutter that Canada helps to fund the UN, and expressed the hope our contribution would be “used to help starving people in developing countries, not to give lectures to wealthy and developed countries like Canada.”

As for those two million hungry Canadians, tough luck. If they wanted help to get out of poverty, they should have been born in a poor country.

Al Pope won the Ma Murray Award for Best Columnist in BC/Yukon in 2010 and 2002. His novel, Bad Latitudes, is available in bookstores.