The future of First Nations relations: peace or strife?

Aboriginal protesters march in Idle No More rally
It appears that the First Nations Idle No More protests that dominated our headlines for months are finally over.

Has the conflict in fact ended or are we just in a period of lull?

The Macdonald-Laurier Institute — an Ottawa-based public policy think tank — has delved into that question with two excellent reports about the future of Aboriginal relations in Canada.

Th two reports, released last week, offer two very different scenarios

Scenario one includes federal and provincial governments collaborating with First Nation communities whereby the natural resource economy provides "the basis for shared prosperity." The authors — Brian Lee Crowley and Ken Coates — cite revenue-sharing agreements in British Columbia as a model for "Aboriginal empowerment."

The second report, by Queen's University professor Douglas Bland, is a little more alarming: Bland suggests that Canada faces the possibility of a "catastrophic" uprising by a new generation of Aboriginals frustrated, in part, by their economic lot and prospects.

Which will it be?

[ Related: Idle No More says Native ‘smear campaign’ continues ]

Ernie Crey, a policy adviser for the Stó:lō Tribal Council in British Columbia, suggests what happens next is up to our federal and provincial governments.

In an interview with Yahoo! Canada News, he said that there are two primary factions in the Aboriginal community. The first one, he says, is comprised of current leaders — like AFN Chief Shawn Atleo — who want to pull First Nations' communities out of the poverty cycle by sitting down at the negotiating table with government. The second, more militant, group is buoyed by the fact that more than half of all Aboriginals are now under the age of 30.

"All these young people are largely — well, they're educational attainment level is low, many of them are living in isolated communities or in isolation in urban centres, alienated, no jobs, very little hope for the future," Crey, who co-authored an award-winning book about the demographic shift in 1998, said.

"This is a demographic that is attracted to what I would describe as messianic Aboriginal leadership. Leadership that says 'you're never going to get a fair deal. It's a racist society. It's a colonial regime. We need to rise up. We need to confront the state head-on come hell or high water and damn the consequences.' They're anarchists."

Crey says that the first group — with those who want to negotiate reconciliation and economic partnerships with Canada — is still in charge. But he warns the second faction is growing and that things could change very quickly unless governments offer up real solutions.

Real solutions to real problems: the suicide rates in First Nations' communities are about five to six times higher than in the general population; less than half of First Nation children graduate from high school compared to 80 per cent in the non-Aboriginal population; and, in 2008, the Aboriginal incarceration rate was nine times the national average.

[ Related: Reserves declare emergency due to sewer backups ]

While there are numerous theories about why the statistics are so dire, Crey implies that, at this point, the "anarchists" don't care to find out who is responsible for these impoverished conditions.

"Observers of Aboriginal scene concerned about a potential insurrection by young Aboriginals," he wrote in a tweet last Thursday.

"Leave them in poverty [and] you will get revolt."

(Photo courtesy of the Canadian Press)

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