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Vol. 7 Issue 1

     In response to Mr. Brunnen’s June 2004 article (found at Canada West Foundation, cwf.ca, entitled “Aborignal Workers are the Skilled Labour Force of the Future.”

To speak about Aboriginal people and their children like they are some sort of cheap source of labour is beyond disrespectful. Your argument that if we don’t train these Aboriginal youth they will become an unacceptable drain on the welfare and justice system is not only racist and ignorant but is based on false arguments.

I quote: “There is a cost to losing this opportunity. In 2001, 20.8 per cent of aboriginals’ total income came from government transfer payments, almost double the 11.5 per cent of non-aboriginals’ incomes. Aboriginals are also more likely to access social services and are over-represented in the criminal justice system. With the aboriginal population on the rise, and many non-aboriginals retiring, these expenditures will increase the burden on the tax base.” Although Aboriginal people are over-represented in the jails and welfare lines of Canada, I would argue that this is due to the historic and ongoing legacy created by past and present government policies and treatment of Canada’s first peoples. It is the direct result of cultural genocide, child kidnapping and molestation during the residential school era, and legal and systemic oppression.

NOT because of a lack of job training. Crime and poverty stem from hopelessness created and perpetuated by racist laws and oppressive government policies, NOT from a lack of training or job opportunites. Your belief that such deep, systemic problems can be overcome and solved FOR the Aboriginal peoples by simple policy changes in regards to job training is naive at best. Your statement that this impending labour shortage presents the government with a double sided opportunity to lift the native child out of his uneducated, poverty stricken state on the rez by training him or her to answer to the labour shortages in Canada, to nurse your old sick folk, is just more of the same attitude Aboriginal people have faced from non-Aboriginal Canada for centuries.

I have recently read article after article about how the fast growing Aboriginal youth population presents a pool of muscle who can work to support the dominant economic, social and political structures of Canada. Has anyone asked the Aboriginal youth if that is what they want? Perhaps they don’t see themselves as poverty stricken undereducated victims or criminals whose last best hope is to be trained by the non-Aboriginal, to move to the city and work to support non-Aboriginal institutions and the status quo of the dominant society. Perhaps they don’t care, or don’t want to be the solution to the problem that “a skilled labour shortage potentially could hinder economic development because of cost overruns from higher wages. This would lead to actual GDP growth falling below projected forecasts.”

Your article argues for the government to recognize the “opportunity” that faces them to once again exploit the Aboriginal for its own purposes. I quote you: “Yet, surprisingly, these circumstances may actually present an opportunity to tap into the aboriginal labour potential.” You claim that everyone will prosper if this is done. You may belive that, but I sure don’t. Past and present reality tells me that when the government fixes its eye on the Aboriginal as a labour source, it is the non-Aboriginal that prospers. Can I remind you of the fur trade, or the war of 1812?

If Aboriginal youth are busy nursing non-Aboriginal elders (don’t forget Aboriginals die a full 10 years earlier than other Canadians), who is working for and in the Aboriginal communities?

Perhaps Aboriginal youth believe themselves to have more potential and value themsleves more than to, as in the fur trade days, partner with the non-Aboriginal to support the economic gains of the non-Aboriginal. I quote your article: “Approximately 50 per cent of aboriginals reside in rural and reserve communities, which are among the regions forecasted to experience the most severe labour shortages. It makes good economic sense to capture the potential of aboriginal labour.”

Perhaps it is time that non-Aboriginal Canadians stop benefitting from the labour of Aboriginal peoples and stop building this country off the backs of Aboriginal peoples. You stated: “The federal parties are overlooking a policy area that could result in significant social and economic gains. By focusing on improving education and job prospects for aboriginals, the government will alleviate pressure on the labour market. This will have an impact on creating a sustainable economy, a positive investment climate, rural prosperity, quality health care, federal-provincial relations, social equality and post-secondary education.” True policy change will never occur until the government stops looking at Aboriginal peoples as a problem to be dealt with or an opportunity to be exploited. To talk about Aboriginal peoples in the way you have can only be described as arrogance stemming from ignorance. We are the First Peoples and as such have the right to a unique constitutional status within the legal and political arena that is Canada, and it is on that standing we should be addressed, not as cheap labourers to be exploited - again. Show some respect.

Tara Letwiniuk, B.S.Soc, LL.B, LL.

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