Way back in the mists of time when I was attending UBC - I believe it was the 1980s, but events from that decade remain kind of vague - one of my classmates was another fellow who grew up in Northern B.C.
Brian was a talented hockey player and an all-around bright guy who regularly engaged the professors in after-class discussions. He was also a hereditary Chief of a First Nations band with a passion for helping his people, so many of those talks revolved around issues facing the indigenous population in this country.
He opened my eyes to a lot of the problems facing First Nations in Canada, but the strongest memory I have is the story of how he ended up lugging a backpack full of books across Point Grey for four years.
Like many Canadian boys, Brian spent his teens chasing the dream of a hockey career, but after running into an endless line of junior coaches who believed native players were only good at fighting, he grew disillusioned.
He spent a couple of years basically wasting his time with dead-end jobs, drifting from one party to another across British Columbia and Alberta.
Being a bright guy, Brian recognized that he was driving in the fast lane on the freeway to nowhere and decided to do something about it. He told his party buddies, most of them native as well, that he wanted to go to university and get a degree in order to help his people.
They openly laughed at the idea and pointed out the system was stacked against him. One night, at a house party in Calgary, he reached his breaking point and when his buddies woke up the next morning, he was gone.
Brian recognized that the only way he could make a run at his dream of a university education was to make a clean break with the people who were holding him back through their negative lifestyles and messages.
I've thought of him a lot in recent weeks as the Idle No More movement emerged. My initial reaction was this is a good thing. It's about time the grassroots of the native population stood up to the Ottawa mandarins who have dictated the terms of their existence for almost 150 years.
It's not nearly as one-sided as when native groups were routinely screwed out of their land by the decisions of self-righteous bureaucrats 100 years ago - as they were in much of British Columbia by a lovely chap named Sir Joseph Trutch - but the current picture remains depressing.
Native groups ostensibly have better representation now, but often the suits wrapped in tribal blankets don't always speak for what's best for the average First Nations member.
The current system embodied by the federal Department of Aboriginal Affairs is beyond broken.
It doesn't need to be torn down and remodeled so much as all vestiges of it need to be nuked off the face of the planet entirely.
Canada is one of the wealthiest nations and its citizens are blessed with one of the highest standards of living on earth. Most of them, that is. If the mark of a society is the way it treats its neediest members, then we have badly failed the First Nations in this country.
Poverty, addiction, rampant crime, a suicide rate that borders on epidemic, malnutrition - are these the characteristics immigrants look forward to when they come to Canada?
Billions upon billions of government money have vanished into thin air as the feds have attempted to fix the human problems with money, but the situation, if anything, is getting worse.
Idle No More should be embraced by Canadians of all political stripes for demanding change and for displaying a willingness to work at the grassroots level for a better future for First Nations communities in this country.
Then I recalled Brian and the struggles he had just to attend university. There are plenty of government education programs in place at the federal and provincial levels, but what good is a program promoting university access for First Nations when most of the kids the program targets have dropped out of high school in Grade 10? (Brian finished high school, but the majority of aboriginal kids do not.)
Idle No More is a great first step, but its members have to be aware that the changes they seek will not happen with a pen stroke. Prime Mannequin Steven Harper is not going to simply hand over the keys to the Assembly of First Nations and wish them well because that would be just as disastrous as the current system. The biggest problem the Idle No More folks are going to have to address is changing the culture of need, and the only people who can change that is the First Nations themselves.
If they want to move forward, they have to break the cycle.
And the task facing Idle No More leaders is daunting - the issues they have to correct run generations deep.
When I was a teenager in a small northern town, I watched as a besotted native gentleman signed away his welfare cheque to a corner store in exchange for a pouch of tobacco, some rolling papers and a handful of 20s that didn't come close to the amount he was entitled to.
He signed the cheque with an X.
Michael Booth can be reached at mbooth@ thenownewspaper.com
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