First Nations agree their leaders must do better

By: Mischa Popoff
Policy Advisor for The Heartland Institute
Research Associate for The Frontier Centre for Public Policy

My last column elicited a broad spectrum of responses. You’ll recall it was critical of NDP MP Romeo Saganash for attempting to board a plane while drunk, and also critical of top-notch First Nations leaders who remain trapped in the confines of their band offices.

An old friend was the first to contact me, accusing me of “borderline racism.” This was quite puzzling, especially when he informed me he was himself part First Nations. “Well that’s nice,” I said, “but who cares?”

The fact that my friend is himself part of the same race as Saganash is completely irrelevant. If what I had written was even remotely discriminatory against people based on race, any member of any race would be able to point it out with equal efficacy.

Instead there were positive responses, ironically enough, from members of Canada’s First Nations community. One member of the Westbank First Nations, who prefers to remain anonymous, said, “What a fine piece of journalism you wrote in The Daily Courier. That was by far one of the best I’ve read. It’s very true, [but] people like to be liked and don’t want to rock the boat. Please continue to write like that. Good for you on that!”

John Lagimodiere, the Métis editor of Eagle Feather News, also appreciated my candor and plans to run the piece. I can’t wait to hear what his readers think of my view of Saganash and my criticism of some of the best business leaders in the country who won’t run for provincial or federal office.

Indian Chiefs in Canada cover the gamut from highly skilled, competent and visionary, to totally incompetent and corrupt, with little in between. This is bad for Canada as a whole, but very bad for Canada’s First Nations people. And, judging by the two who wrote in support of my column, I’m not the only one to notice this dichotomy.

Then there were the editors of The Strand, Victoria University’s student newspaper. They wrote saying, “Please don’t send us any more of your racist drivel, thanks.” It’s a complete shame to see how narrow-minded Canada’s next generation of intellectuals is shaping up to be. They clearly didn’t even read my column, or if they did, failed to comprehend it. And I’m not sure which is worse from an academic perspective.

As for my friend who’s part First Nations and thinks I’m at risk of crossing the line into racism, well, he will remain a friend, but with the following proviso: I’m not the one who’s bordering on racism; it is, potentially, you who is my friend.

The unwillingness on some people’s part to look at the Saganash case for what it is shows the greatest of disrespect to First Nations people. Saganash is an example of an incompetent First-Nations politician who either has to clean up his act or resign! But, sadly, the willingness of his boss, New Democrat Party leader Thomas Mulcair, to give him a free pass is a salient example of the soft racism that prevents many bright young First Nations people from taking leadership positions in Canada.

There’s nothing wrong with aspiring to a leadership position within a band office. But what good does that do anyone, regardless of their race, if that becomes an end in itself and all we see is someone like Saganash indulging himself, and getting away with it, outside the confines of this nation’s nanny reserve system?

I ended my last column saying “Canada’s First Nations deserve better. So does the rest of Canada.” Saganash could still turn things around by coming clean and admitting his failings. We all have our problems. But the biggest problem is when we don’t own up to them, or recognize them in others because of their race. Then everyone suffers.

This Democracy
Mischa Popoff is a freelance political writer with a degree in history.