How closely do you pay attention to what’s happening in your backyard?
Yesterday afternoon, I stretched out on a beach chair beside my apartment complex. Birds were twittering away in the trees and a warm breeze rippled the pool. I had a John Irving novel, a sweating bottle of chilled club soda, and a stylin’ pair of knock-off Ray Bans. Before long, I dozed off in the glow of the late afternoon sun.
A mere five kilometers away, people were losing their homes. Bulldozers tore through concrete, shredded furniture, and sent debris crashing to the ground. While I was inspecting my skin for signs of sunburn and flipping the pages of A Prayer for Owen Meany, my roommate was trudging through the mud, documenting what may be the worst day in some Eastleigh residents’ lives.
Eastleigh is often called “Little Somalia” — it’s where most of the Somali diaspora lives, a population that is generally discriminated against in Kenya partially due to the al-Shabaab link. I’m not going to pass judgement on the government’s motives, because I don’t know what they were. The official line is that the demolition was due to security concerns (the buildings were located next to a military airfield); some say it was a land grab. Here is what we do know, and what I will judge — the residents of these buildings got ten minutes’ notice.
“Lucky” doesn’t even begin to cover my living conditions here in Kenya.
But let’s broaden the lens a little. Imagine a community where many live in makeshift sheds without water or electricity. Where their toilet is a bucket, emptied into a ditch outside their home. Disease and infection are a constant concern. Children run free — there’s no elementary school, let alone high school or post-secondary education.
I could be describing any number of communities in the developing world… until I add this little tidbit: imagine the winter temperatures in this community reaching 45 degrees below zero. Hey there, Canada.
Governments treating their citizens like shit doesn’t only happen in Kenya. Welcome to the lives of many of Canada’s First Nations. On Monday, NDP MP Charlie Angus wrote an article for HuffPo Canada about the current situation in the Attawapiskat First Nation in northern Ontario. Read it. No, don’t open it in a tab on your browser to “come back to later” — read it now. It is chilling. But it is not a one-off.
In June of this year, interim Auditor General John Wiersema released a report detailing the failure of the federal government to honour its commitments to improving the quality of life in aboriginal communities. In fact, the report found that conditions had deteriorated since the turn of the millennium: shortage of housing (and poor conditions in existing housing), lack of access to safe drinking water, high levels of high school dropouts, and lack of appropriate family services. This document was the final report by the previous AG, Sheila Fraser. In it, she wrote: “…a disproportionate number of First Nations people still lack the most basic services that other Canadians take for granted.”
This is not a partisan rant. The mistreatment of Canada’s aboriginal populations has been a longstanding political tradition under the authority of multiple political parties, both in government and opposition. In fact, it has been going on since the Europeans first sailed up the St. Lawrence. Canada turned 144 this year, shouldn’t we be old enough to know better? Regardless of background, ethics or political stripes, I don’t think any Canadian would like to believe that this is how we treat our own. Maybe you don’t believe in using tax dollars to fund development in faraway regions through CIDA or IDRC. But these are people living within Canada’s borders. They’re Canadians. It’s happening in our backyard, and we’re ignoring it.
The federal government recently committed $500,000 to the Attawapiskat First Nation, but when you consider the gravity of their situation, it’s almost an insult. Angus’s article estimates that the community needs 268 new houses just to deal with the current backlog of homelessness… that $500,000 isn’t going to go far.
Let’s make a little comparison, shall we? How much did the feds spend on the G8/G20 summit in 2010? Well, they spent a roughly similar amount ($517,983.40) just on baggage handling at the airport in Toronto, according to a CBC database (if you trust those pinkos). All told, the final House of Commons calculations peg the G8/G20 summit costs somewhere around $900 million. And despite being a proud member of this exclusive little economic club, Canada is letting its own citizens live in poverty. Let’s get some frigging perspective up in here.