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Urban Indians: Victims Of Rural Poverty Become Victims Of Urban Poverty

Mervin Dieter

SASKATCHEWAN INDIAN      FEBRUARY 1973      v03 n02 p12  
The transition of Indians from the Reserves to the urban areas began directly after World War II. Many young men from these Reserves voluntarily enlisted in the services to serve their country and with their leaving of the Reserves many of their families left the Reserves to live in the urban areas and perhaps another factor that greatly contributed to this transition was an economic one.

As World War II saw the end of the greatest depression ever experienced in this country, and as better times and job opportunities improved this transition really mushroomed into a rather large exodus from Reserve to the urban areas. This boom was largely caused by the construction industry as larger urban centres began building and enlarging. This demanded large forces of labour which was filled by many native people. If bad times can change to good times, good times can change to bad times much more readily! This happened and construction slowed down to almost a halt leaving many Indians without work and in most cases they were the first to be laid off. Other work was available but required a greater degree of skill and knowledge that many of these people were not prepared for, leaving them with no alternative but to become dependent on Social Aid either on the Reserve or in the urban area.

For many this started a pendulum swinging back to the Reserve then back to the urban area and so on, causing the many frustrations and social ills both mental and physical that plague so many of our people today both on and off the Reserve.

It must be understood that the Native society like any other present day society is a very fragmentated society both economically and socially. We have a certain portion of our society very well adjusted and equipped to cope with and compete in this present day's fast moving society. These are both found on and off the Indian reserve. Those on the reserve are engaged in agriculture any there are those commuting daily from the reserves to work outside the reserve. The urban Indian whom this article is written about form a large portion of this group. Many are engaged in skilled and unskilled occupations. In this group are found responsible and positively thinking and acting people meeting and relating to their everyday problems as any other responsible citizen.

The other side of the picture is unfortunately not so rosy this makes up the greatest portion of the urban Indian population in the urban area. It is in this area that a sad and pathetic situation exists. Frustrations, loneliness, unemployment, poor housing accommodations, drinking, trouble with the law and a social aid system that does nothing more but barely keep body and soul together and in too many cases perpetuates this sad and pathetic situation. There is no one specific area of society that one can point one's finger at and say, "You are to blame!" It is the gross apathetic attitude of the whole general society both Indian and non-Indian and all portions of this fragmentated society. That is to say those who have it made, as the saying goes, those who have helped themselves and are able to help others and those who can help themselves but will not and have allowed themselves to become totally dependent on the aims of society.

The urban Indian population in the Regina area is very unstable. It fluctuates as near as can be estimated, 10,000 to 15,000. Indian organizations and agencies to help these people consist of a Friendship Centre, which employs people; Executive Director, Program and Sports Directors, Family Counsellors and a Court Worker. This centre is a very busy place and is used by various groups such as A.A. Tutoring, Driver Training and Indian language classes are often held there. Recreation activities such as dancing, pow-wow, etc. take up much of the leisure time of many native people. Banquets and meetings by various groups are also held there. In the sport area many sports such as basketball, fastball, hockey, curling, etc. are organized there. There is a native youth group who are concerned with the welfare of the native people both young and old. They have a fairly large building for their programs. They are also involved in many recreational and sports activities as well as the more serious business of improving things for their people. Then there is the Native Project, another self-help group whose concern is the welfare of the people involved with the law and the Correction Centre a very positive and responsible group moving in a good direction. There is also a Federation of Saskatchewan Indians office in Regina. Although no funds are made available to the Federation for work among the urban Treaty Indians much is done to ease many problems of the people.

These and other non-status Indian organizations are working and striving to improve living and social standards for their people. However in spite of the concerned and concerted efforts of these very concerned native groups very little headway is being made. Many cases of discrimination, prejudice and other bad social and physical conditions are still prevalent. Many attempts are made to get together with various civic and government agencies to help to alleviate this situation. Due to instances of isolated racial differences and confrontations, efforts were made to try and get an ombudsman to act in the interests of the people concerned and other efforts were made to improve housing and work opportunities for the native people met with dismal failure. These meetings could be termed nothing more than downright confrontations achieving nothing more than widening the gap of communication with either side refusing to make concessions and really getting down to the business of good and meaningful dialogue.

At no time in history was there ever a proper time for finger pointing but from time immemorial this practice persisted. It is understood that our present day society is a highly complex society and must not be confused with fragmentation. It is this fragmentation that exist within this complex society that contributes to much of the lack of communications any misunderstanding that plague our society today. If each of us can only form our own little niche in the mosaic of our way of life, are willing to meet and relate to our own problems any thus of others, we may then have harmony in the mosaic way of our life.

Rural poverty-Willard Ahenakew Urban poverty-Willard Ahenakew