Cynicism giving way to optimism


In my earlier post today I mentioned in passing that I was cynically optimistic about some of the changes I’ve seen in how governments in Canada think of and behave toward First Nations communities. I think when I wrote that I fully intended to explain what I meant, but for whatever reason (read: laziness) I didn’t. I’ll take this opportunity to do just that.

I am all for governments, corporations and other large, powerful entities doing the right thing. I think it’s fantastic when an oil company pledges to clean up a spill, or when a politician crosses the partisan divide to vote for something that is ethically right, even if it isn’t expedient with her base. I’ve tried to be mostly fair with the Catholic Church when it does things that are in line with secular morality. However, in each and every one of those cases, I am immediately suspicious of the motive behind the action. Is the oil company trying to cover up the fact that it caused the spill? Is the politician trying to brand herself as ‘centrist’ or curry favour with a power interest group? Is the Catholic Church not raping children anymore, or just trying to get people to stop equating “Catholic priest” with “child rapist”?

In light of my cynicism (which I think is reasonable and justifiable), it can be hard to get too optimistic about things. To be sure, I am generally optimistic that life will get better over time – that has been the story of humankind throughout history. However, whether a specific story represents a genuine step forward for society or a clever act of obfuscation is a judgment call I often have a difficult time making.

For example, this:

After years of conflict, including a Supreme Court of Canada battle, the Taku River Tlingit First Nation of northwest British Columbia signed a land and resource management and shared decision-making agreement today with the provincial government — the first of its kind in B.C. Premier Christy Clark said the agreement creates 13 new protected areas and provides resource development opportunities and investment certainty in more than three million hectares in the Atlin Taku region. She added that is the size of all of Vancouver Island.

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“We are emerging from a dark period in our history with hope and promise,” said Taku River Tlingit First Nation spokesman John Ward. “It’s so great to come out of the darkness and silence we’ve experienced for so many years and be acknowledged.” Ward said the land use agreement gives aboriginals a say on how industry “can access and conduct themselves in our traditional territory.”

It is my cynicism that is preventing me from jumping up and down and doing cartwheels all around my apartment right now (well, that and the fact that I have never been able to do a cartwheel). This kind of thing is exactly how not only the political system is supposed to work, but the legal system. The courts are supposed to overrule the government when it acts in its own best interests rather than those of its people. First Nations people should control their own lands and not only have a stake in how they are managed, but to reap the benefits of resource exploitation. This deal is likely to mean infrastructure and industry jobs for people living in the region – if these positions are structured properly it could mean real long-term development and sustained economic strength in the region.

That’s the optimist in me talking. Considering the number of First Nations bands that have complained about corruption in their leadership, and considering the ease with which groups that have abundant resources but little education on how to manage them get exploited by multinational interests, my inner optimist is losing the arm-wrestling match to my inner cynic. Until we see a sea change in the way we think of First Nations issues, and how First Nations communities are supported/encouraged to grow, I don’t see this as resulting in anything more than more money in the hands of a few people while the general quality of life remains unchanged.

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