we’re #4!!!

October 5, 2009 § Leave a comment

the un released its human development index rankings today.  canada ranks as the 4th best place in the world to live.  not so bad, i suppose, to be ranked #4.  it ranks after norway, australia, and iceland.  but i find this kind of disturbing, really.  norway, fine.  i’ve got nothing against norway, nor really australia, either.  but iceland?  iceland is practically bankrupt, one of the hardest hit nations in the world during the current economic meltdown that we may or may not be recovering from.  how that can be translated into a #3 rating is beyond me.  but i guess the economy is only part of the hdi, but i do wonder what will happen to iceland next year.  and to be fair, iceland did fall from 1st to 3rd this year.

meanwhile, canada.  canada spent a long time atop the annual hdi.  in 1992, and from 1994 right through to 2000, this was the best place in the world to live, at least as measured by the compilation of statistics by the un.  but, hey, that’s not a bad thing.  canada was the first dynasty of the hdi, which the un only began publishing in 1990.  norway is the current dynasty, having been first from 2001-2006 and now this year, its reign only punctuated by iceland’s two chart toppers in 2007 and 2008.

and whilst canada is by no means a poor place to live, its measurement in the hdi has consistently ranked it in the top 10, most often in the top 5.  but this slippage does get me worried in some ways.  canada tends to fall down these rankings due to its poor record vis-à-vis the aboriginal population and the vast amount of poverty on reserves around the country, as well as the incredibly difficult circumstances aboriginals in urban areas tend to face.  and yet, and yet…every government in the past decade has sworn to do better by the aboriginal population.  and every government does nothing.  last week, the globe & mail visited what it called “ground zero” of the h1n1 outbreak in canada, an indian reserve at wasagamack, manitoba.  wasagamack is an incredibly isolated community, 600 km north of winnipeg, a trip made by air and water taxi.

wasagamack made headlines last month because health canada sent out 200 body bags instead of supplies to fight a possible outbreak of h1n1.  this was a great insult, because death is taboo in aboriginal culture, death is not prepared for, death is dealt with when it arrives, but not beforehand.

at any rate, as the newspaper article shows, this nation lags on dealing with the very real threat against the human rights of canadian aboriginals.  i have been on reserves in various parts of this country, and in some cases, conditions are appalling.  and spare me the rightwing argument they only have themselves to blame.  that is utter bullshit.  reserves were created on marginal land the country over.  traditional ways of life were discouraged by the government, languages were lost, and so on.  when “modern” housing was promised, the results were disappointing.  places like wasagamck have homes inundated with mould, improper sanitation, like no running water, broken windows, and sagging foundations.

this is a national embarrassment.  i recall, back when i worked on aboriginal claims, canada 2000.  i lived in ottawa, and i was working on a claim that involved the forced removal of several groups of inuit in northern manitoba and what is now nunavut to new locations.  the government, in some cases, claimed it was due to the need for food.  the caribou, which the southern inuit relied upon for food, had changed their migration patterns and were experiencing a dip in their population.  but rather than let the inuit track their new routes south and west of their location, they were moved to churchill, manitoba, where they were put on the dole and disease stalked them.  further north, the inuit were moved around the arctic like pawns on a chessboard for the government, as a means of shoring up canadian sovereignty in the arctic during the cold war (aboriginals and the arctic are two issues in canadian politics where politicians talk the talk but continually fail to walk the walk).  and so here i was in ottawa in 2000, 40 years after these events up north.  and all i could feel was revulsion at my country, that this was allowed to happen.

one civil servant at northern affairs canada argued, quite forcefully, that the government had done the right thing, that it knew better than the inuit as to how to survive.  i was dumbfounded, i was astounded that this attitude still existed in the government.

and meanwhile, each successive government talks about improving the quality of life of aboriginals on and off reserves.  and each government fails.  even the current conservative government, with a minister of health, leona aglukkaq, who is an inuit from nunavut, has continued to fail.  indeed, it was aglukkaq’s government which sent out the body bags to wasagamack.


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