But all is not all dark and gloomy in this country that I love:
The Belinda Stronach Foundation is giving up to 5,000 laptops loaded with specialized software to children in aboriginal communities across Canada. The green-coloured XO laptop computers are the same as those built and distributed by One Laptop Per Child, an organization that estimates it has donated more than two million laptops worldwide. “I believe strongly in combining the power of technology and education and investing in our young people,” said Stronach, a former federal cabinet minister and Magna International executive who has turned her efforts to social activism.
I wish we’d see more things like this from the federal government (and before you accuse me of picking on this government, I’ll point out the fact that the problems in Aboriginal communities are not new, and all federal governments have largely ignored them). A great deal of money has been earmarked towards health promotion, infrastructure developments, mental health services – basically anything that keeps Aboriginal people reliant on the government for assistance. I am not not NOT suggesting that these programs are a waste of money or worse; “reverse racism” of some kind. I will leave such brainless assertions to my friends on the right of the political spectrum.
What I am suggesting is that these kinds of programs are not sufficient. In addition to giving the proverbial fish to the proverbial starving man, there needs to be efforts to provide the resources that will allow these communities to become self-sufficient. Arming these kids with the access and technical skills to enfranchise themselves allows more First Nations people to take part in the national conversation. In a short-sighted kind of way, that’s bad news for the status quo because it will force those in power to begin sharing it. However, there is experience and perspective and human resources that are largely untapped within First Nations communities, and allowing those to develop will benefit everyone, not just members of those communities.
There is also the obvious fact that First Nations communities are in the shape they are in because of systemic racism. It is a further entrenchment of this kind of systemic racism for a white organization to swoop in and start handing out money. As Tim Wise often points out, while race and economics are often closely-linked, it is the height of ignorance to pretend as though one is a surrogate for another. This investment in the people of these communities simultaneously recognizes the racism and makes tangible, long-term steps to attempt to ameliorate its effects. The way we treat First Nations communities in Canada is our national shame, in the same way that the historic and ongoing mistreatment of black people is the national shame of the United States.
In the same way I applauded the Giving Pledge for making investments in poor communities not out of a sense of guilt or obligation, I applaud the Belinda Stronach Foundation for recognizing that an investment in under-served communities yields benefits for us all, particularly those who are at the bottom of the ladder.
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