The recent editorial ("Nisga'a take lead...," Sept. 4) saluting the Nisga'a decision to privatize property attempts to subtly link the harsh and impoverished conditions of contemporary indigenous life with adherence to traditional, communal land tenure. This tows the favourite line of one of Harper's most influential Neo-con back room boys, Tom Flanagan of the University of Calgary. The debatable premise is that if only Native villages can be turned into little bastions of a freely operating real estate markets, all will be well.
As the editorial concludes we must wait to see how the Nisga'a experiment goes. But while we do, please let's not be blindly ignorant of the many factors, outside First Nation control, that have led to today's depressing rates of on-reserve poverty, violence and addiction. Among these, commonly held land title, dare I say, pales by comparison. There was of course the now well-known savageries of the residential school system as well as earlier scourges of cultural suppression and suspiciously introduced epidemics. And there is also a very real and enduring bigotry against Native people not far at all beneath the polite veneer of mainstream settler society.
But most fundamental is the conveniently forgotten if blatant historical fact that indigenous people had their lands and resources stolen. If today's First Nations - in distinction to the pittance that the Nisga'a agreed to - were paid back a substantial proportion of the value of possessions taken from them without treaty or any other legally recognized form of surrender, every indigenous man, woman and child in British Columbia would be a millionaire. Their well-being would then not be dubiously linked to whether First Nations held on to or abandoned forms of communal land tenure that worked rather well for centuries.