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Getting Free From The Welfare Trap

SASKATCHEWAN INDIAN      OCTOBER 1976      v06 n10 p25  
In any part of Canada if you are driving along a highway and pass through an Indian Reserve you know immediately where you are.

First of all the houses all look the same, small basic bungalows with the paint job providing the only variety. Each years model can be identified as easily as each years automobile line up.

But second and more identifiable is the contrast between the land on the Reserve and the land adjacent to it, it is undeveloped or what is developed is often leased to outside farmers. At the border of the Reserve you will find a store or a small town whose livelihood depends on the welfare system of the nearby Reserve.

These so called "Indian Towns" such as Broadview, Kamsack, Belcarres and Cutknife owe a large part of their existence to the Indian welfare based economy.

The profile of an Indian community reveals how tragically our "trustee" the Department of Indian Affairs has let us down. Instead of living up to the treaty obligation they spoon fed us with the most crippling economic system of all, the welfare system.

Under the welfare system Indian people have been kept on the shelf, sustained but not developed. Generally, there is little or no employment available and that which is available is menial. An Indian person working as a janitor in a Federal school may have more natural intelligence than the Principal and know it, but because he doesn't satisfy the white

Graph: Cost of Social Assistance Payments [I.A.B.] 1963 to 1974 Saskatchewan
Cost of Social Assistance Payments (I.A.B.)
1963 to 1974

Getting Free From The Welfare Trap

SASKATCHEWAN INDIAN      OCTOBER 1976      v06 n10 p26  
[Continued from Last Page]

mans criteria of "educated" he will forever remain a Janitor.

This tragic waste of human resources is the root of the social problems which plague Indian Communities.

Since there is little or no real income generated on Reserves the unearned income is the welfare cheque. The money is brought on to the Reserve, from the outside, the Department of Indian Affairs, and cashed and spent outside at the local town.

As Flip Wilson said, "Money is like blood, its got to circulate."

Indian Reserves are anaemic, force fed by the Department of Indian Affairs and bled dry by local white merchants.

Indian Affairs is trying like hell to get out of the welfare business, not so they can improve the lot of the Indian people but so they can get them off their back. Nobody likes to administer welfare so the Department offers an 8% administration overhead available to Bands who take it over. Taking over the welfare program is political disaster but when your back is to the wall and you can't generate your income most Chiefs have settled to take over the distasteful program.

Taking a man on welfare and training him to be a welfare administrator is not a significant economic development.

The system hasn't changed, instead of a white hand signing welfare cheques it's a brown one.

The situation is beginning to change, not because of the Department. but in spite of it.

The attitude of the Department is to support individual development and discourage Band development. Agricultural loans from $50,000 to $70,000 have been made to individual farmers. If the trend continues it will effectively destroy the Reserve system and Indian Government far more effectively than any Indian Affairs policy of assimilation or detribalization. It will result in several large farmers controlling the vast majority of the land. The rest will remain on welfare or move off in search of independence.

If economic development is to be compatible with Indian Government and Treaty Rights there must be a limited amount of individual "free enterprise" and an emphasis placed on Band development. Instead of several individuals getting rich on large farms a Band farm will have to be developed that will employ more families full time with seasonal employment for many.

Starting with a Band farm or a community school a number of developments can spin off. A gas station and garage could service farm machinery and school buses. A Band Co-op store could provide groceries at a reduced cost by eliminating costly trips to the nearest town. A part of the Band farm could be set aside for a vegetable garden with a farmers market offered to Band members. As the flow of money increased, a Credit Union could be established.

This may sound idealistic and dreaming but this is the type of system which exists off the Reserve to varying degrees. The Hutterites have developed a strongly cooperative system and while their lifestyle may

GRAPH: I.A.B. Social Assistance, On Reserve Population & Cost of Living. Saskatchewan 1965-74
I.A.B. Social Assistance, On Reserve Population & Cost of Living.

Getting Free From The Welfare Trap

SASKATCHEWAN INDIAN      OCTOBER 1976      v06 n10 p27  
not be compatible to Indians, their economic system certainly is.

The Treaties were signed with all the Band members in mind and it was with that same feeling that the Reserves were selected by our forefathers.

Economic development must be undertaken with that fact in mind. Land clearing and the use of resources must be a Band decision, wholesale development with no thought of the future cannot be tolerated. The natural character of the land must be retained as much as possible so our future generations will identity with the land and their roots as Indian people.

PIECHART: Indian Affairs Manpower in Saskatchewan 1975-6
Indian Affairs Manpower in Saskatchewan

PIECHART: Indian Affairs O & M Budget in Saskatchewan, 1975-6
Indian Affairs O & M Budget in Saskatchewan, 1975-6

Note; within the budget for education, community affairs and economic development there are dollars for administration, over and above the 5% shown.