September 16, 2008
The Road to Nowhere is officially marked on maps of Iqaluit, Nunavut, and included on taxi tours of this northern capital. The self mocking de-locational indicator ‘nowhere’ is turned on its head becoming the Road to Everywhere, when viewed from the standpoint of a circumpolar map. The Road to Nowhere winds up and over the hills that nestle the hamlet. In the spring, it attracts Iqaluimmiut for weekend hikes, flying kites or rock collecting. The thin, worn, seemingly fragile carpet of undergrowth covers the granite hills. Dwarf willow and lichen cling closely to the spongy earth. Caribou droppings reveal their presence in the hills. The blue sky is piercing. A snow bunting flits by. Its clear melody cuts deftly into the tufts of wind. The panorama from the side of the road reveals Koojesse Inlet, still frozen under several metres of ice. Snow machines have traced a complicated web of trails leading from these hills through the hamlet, onto the ice and off into the distance. Some are out for an afternoon of touring while others are equipped with hunting rifles and komatik . Some venture as far as Kimmirut or Pangnirtung, one, two or three sleeps away. The snowmobile trails encircle the cluster of small islands in the Bay, including Dog Island where sled dogs were once kept during the summer months. The layers of hills beyond Koojesse Inlet appear and disappear with the shifting winds and veils of clouds, mist and snow.
Picture a traditional stretched skin leaning against the house, a snow machine with country food wrapped in sealskin being unpacked outside a small home and a large satellite dish on the roof. Picture a hunter returning home on foot, after a day spent near the ice floes, walking along with a rifle in one arm talking on his cell phone. Picture a child-sized brightly coloured snow machine with a round-faced little girl encircling two houses tracing endlessly repeated infinity symbols. Picture the entire community filling a community hall —- elders, teenagers, and young mothers with babies in amautiit — gathered to grieve. Life crises, such as youth suicides — and even an unsolved murder of a young woman — are an integral part of the shadow side of modernization in Canadian aboriginal and Inuit communities.
In Iqaluit, the Inuit population is diverse. There are more youth and children than in southern Canadian communities. There is a small pocket of people who are from the region. However, numerous others come from Broughton Island, Pangnirtung, Pond Inlet and many other hamlets across Baffin Island and beyond. They bring with them accents and histories that are not shared. There are uni-lingual hunters and elders, college students and professors, technicians, political figures and highly successful professionals — all the social classes are represented. There are many who produce arts and crafts.
In Iqaluit, there are some qabloonaat who have lived in the north for thirty years — the old-timer/newcomers — others just thirty days. Flows of money, goods, information and people arrive at the airport. Iqaluit is experiencing a boom that rapidly outgrew its housing capacity. Among these other northerners, accents reveal a diversity of origins. Many are first generation northerners. Some came from the east, from Greenland, Iceland, Ireland, Finland, Russia and the Faeroe Islands. Others came north from Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Quebec. There are northerners whose families originated in India, Sri Lanka, Somalia and the Caribbean. One of the larger communities within the Iqaluit community is French-speaking. Almost all the taxi drivers and construction workers come from Quebec. Their Association is engaged, experienced and energetic. As a result, this small community has its own French school. Environment Canada in Iqaluit provides blizzard warnings in two languages, English and French… not Inuktitut. Taped on the dash of one Pai Pa taxi, is a torn, coloured snap shot of a house in Quebec City. The twenty-six-year-old driver is paying off his mortgage one $4.50 fare at a time.
Iqaluit is the seat of the Legislative Assembly of Nunavut Government, Federal agencies, CLEY, the Qikiqtani Inuit Association, Municipal government and the home of the president of the Inuit Circumpolar Conference among others. The capital of Nunavut is a community of communities (O’Malley 1999).
Flynn-Burhoe, Maureen. 2003-06-06. Vignette: Iqaluit, Nunavut.
July 12, 2008
Flynn-Burhoe, Maureen. 2007. “Nanuq of the North II: Animal Rights vs Human Rights.” Speechless. Uploaded January 3, 2007.
The Bush administration took advantage of the way in which all eyes turn towards Santa’s North Pole, where big-eyed talking polar bears, reindeer and seals live in harmony, to announce that they would save these creatures from Nanook of the North. See story.
For a divergent point of view read Nunatsiak News article.
Nanook (nanuq Inuktitut for polar bear) was the name of the Eskimo hunter captured on film in the first documentary ever produced, Robert Flaherty’s (1922) Nanook of the North , — still shown in film studies survey courses. Nanook the Stone Age-20the century hunter became an international legend as a lively, humourous and skillful hunter of polar bears, seals and white fox who tried to bite into the vinyl record Flaherty had brought with him. (The real “Nanook” died of tuberculosis (Stern 2004:23) as did countless Inuit from small communities ravaged by one of the worst epidemic’s of tuberculosis on the planet.)
On August 13, 1942 in Walt Disney studios’ canonical animated film Bambi it was revealed that many animals with cute eyes could actually talk and therefore shared human values. Nanook and his kind became the arch enemy of three generations of urban North Americans and Europeans. Hunters were bad. Cute-eyed animals that could talk were good. Today many animals’ lives have been saved from these allegedly cruel hunters by the billion dollar cute-eyed-talking-animals-industry.
The White House has once again come to the rescue of these vulnerable at-risk animals. (There was an entire West Wing episode in which a gift of moose meat was rejected by all staff since it came from a big-eyed-talking-animal. See Ejesiak and Flynn-Burhoe (2005) for more on how the urban debates pitting animal rights against human rights impacted on the Inuit.) Who would ever have suspected that the Bush administration cared so much about the environment that they would urge an end to the polar bear hunt, already a rare phenomenon to many Inuit since their own quotas protected them?
When I lived in the north the danger for polar bears did not reside in the hearts of hunters. Nanuq the polar bear who could not talk was starving. He hung out around hamlets like Churchill, Baker Lake or Iqaluit, looking for garbage since this natural habitat was unpredictable as the climate changed. Some people even insisted that there was no danger from the polar bear who had wandered into town since he was ’skinny.’ That did not reassure me! I would have preferred to know that he was fat, fluffy and well-fed. Polar bears die from exhaustion trying to swim along their regular hunting routes as ice floes they used to be able to depend on melted into thin air literally. They die, not because there are not enough seals but because they need platform ice in the right seasons. That platform ice is disappearing. They die with ugly massive tumours in them developed from eating char, seals and other Arctic prey whose bodies are riddled with southern toxins that have invaded the pristine, vulnerable northern ecosystem. Nanuq is dying a slow painful death. Nanuq is drowning. Although he doesn’t sing he is a canary for us all.
Climate change and southern industrial toxins affect the fragile ecosystem of the Arctic first. The Inuit claimed in 2003,“Global warming is killing us too, say Inuit .”This is why Sheila Watt-Cloutier laid a law suit against the administration of the United States of America. Now the handful of Job-like Inuit who managed to survive the seal hunt fiasco of the 1980s and are still able hunt polar bear, will have yet another barrier put between them and the ecosystem they managed and protected for millennia. When I see Baroque art and read of the Enlightenment, I think Hudson’s Bay and the whalers in the north. It wasn’t the Inuit who caused the mighty leviathan to become endangered. Just how enlightened are we, the great grandchildren of the settlers today? Who is taking care of our Other grandparents?
Since the first wave of Inuit activists flooded the Canadian research landscape fueled by their frustrations with academic Fawlty Towers they morphed intergenerational keen observation of details, habits of memory, oral traditions and determination with astute use of artefacts and archives to produce focused and forceful research. When Sheila Watt-Cloutier representing the Inuit Circumpolar Conference (ICC) was acknowledged with two awards in one year for work done to protect the environment, I wondered how many cheered her on.
I don’t cheer so much anymore. I am too overwhelmed, too hopeless to speak. I myself feel toxic, perhaps another pollutant from the south — my name is despair. I don’t want to dampen the enthusiasm of those activists who still have courage to continue. For myself, I feel like the last light of the whale-oil-lit kudlik is Flicktering and there is a blizzard outside.
From wikipedia entry Sheila Watt-Cloutier
In 2002, Watt-Cloutier was elected International Chair of ICC, a position she would hold until 2006. Most recently, her work has emphasized the human face of the impacts of global climate change in the Arctic. In addition to maintaining an active speaking and media outreach schedule, she has launched the world’s first international legal action on climate change. On December 7, 2005, based on the findings of the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment, which projects that Inuit hunting culture may not survive the loss of sea ice and other changes projected over the coming decades, she filed a petition, along with 62 Inuit Hunters and Elders from communities across Canada and Alaska, to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, alleging that unchecked emissions of greenhouse gases from the United States have violated Inuit cultural and environmental human rights as guaranteed by the 1948 American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man.
2. See also David Ewing Duncan’s “Bush’s Polar-Bear Problem” Technology Review: The Authority on the Future of Technology. From MIT. Information on Emerging Technologies. March 09, 2007. Duncan claims “The administration tells scientists attending international meetings not to discuss polar bears, climate change, or sea ice.”
See We Feel Fine for innovative use of this image in an upcoming publication.
Caspar David Friedrich’s (1824) The Sea of Ice
Tujjaat Resolution Island, abandoned, DEW line station DINA Northern Contaminated Sites Program (CSP) web site
My photo of ice floes in Charlottetown harbour, March 2000
A section of my acrylic painting entitled Nukara (2000)
Eilperin, Juliet. (2006). ““U.S. Wants Polar Bears Listed as Threatened.” Washington Post Staff Writer. Wednesday, December 27, 2006; Page A01
Fekete, Jason. 2008. “Nunavut opposes anti-polar bear hunt movement in U.S.” Calgary Herald. May 29, 2008
Gertz, Emily. 2005. The Snow Must Go On. Inuit fight climate change with human-rights claim against U.S. Grist: Environmental News and Commentary. 26 Jul 2005.
The Guardian. 2003. ““Inuit to launch human rights case against the Bush Administration.”
Stern, Pamela R. 2004. Historical Dictionary of the Inuit. Lanham, MD:Scarecrow Press.
DEW line contaminated sites in Nunavut.
This will be updated from EndNote. If you require a specific reference please leave a comment on this page.
Creative Commons Canadian Copyright 2.5 BY-NC-SA.
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Fortier, director of ArcticNet, international conference on defence and security in Quebec City November 15, 2007 that the worst-case scenarios of dramatic polar sea ice melting are becoming reality. Geopolitical tensions are increasing between circumpolar nations re: securing territory, resource claims and shipping rights in the Arctic.
Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans researcher admits that migratory sea mammals, particularly ringed seals and beluga, continue to be poisoned by mercury at increasing levels from unknown sources. The benefits of Inuit food: caribou, whale (beluga) or ring seals, rich in vitamins, nutrition and low in oil are greater than the health risks.
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September 26, 2007
Dramatic images from NASA and the National Snow and Ice Data Center at the University of Colorado in Boulder reveal disturbing changes to the homelands of circumpolar Inuit. Rotten sea ice prevents access to resources. The amount of ice loss this year absolutely stunned CU-Boulder senior cryospheric scientist Mark Serreze of NSIDC.
Sea ice extent continues to decline, and is now at 4.24 million square kilometers (1.63 million square miles), falling yet further below the previous record absolute minimum of 5.32 million square kilometers (2.05 million square miles) that occurred on Se
Key words, tags, folksonomies: environment, science, weather, Nunavut, circumpolar Inuit, Inuit social histories, climate change,
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September 14, 2007
The 192-member nations of the U.N. General Assembly passed the declaration wth 143 votes in favor and 11 abstentions. United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand claimed it gave excessive property and legal powers.
The UN declaration of rights for indigenous peoples states that “indigenous peoples have the right to the lands, territories and resources which they have traditionally owned, occupied or otherwise used or acquired.”
That could potentially put in question most of the land ownership in countries, such as those that opposed the declaration, whose present population is largely descended from settlers who took over territory from previous inhabitants. A balancing clause inserted at a late stage in the text says nothing in it can authorize or encourage “any action which would dismember or impair, totally or in part, the territorial integrity or political unity” of states. That was not good enough for the four objectors, notably Canada, where the issue has become a political football. Many of Canada’s 1 million aboriginal and Inuit people live in overcrowded, unsanitary housing and suffer high rates of unemployment, substance abuse and suicide (Worsnip 2007).
Worsnip, Patrick. 2007. “U.N. Assembly backs indigenous peoples’ rights.” Reuters. September 13.
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Instead of providing new water plants for the 89 First Nations communities under a drinking water advisory, Health Canada will make better signs and posters warning people to stop drinking contaminated water. Kashechewan, made headline news in 2005 when 100s evacuated because water was contaminated by E. coli. It is still a community-in-crisis.
Instead of providing new water plants for the 89 First Nations communities under a drinking water advisory, Health Canada will make better signs and posters warning people to stop drinking contaminated water. There are 600 First Nations communities concerned by the issue of clean water. The suicide-plagued community-in-crisis Kashechewan First Nation is one of many that [. . .] continue to struggle with poorly designed water plants or overly modern systems that are considered too costly to staff or maintain.” (Barrett 2007)
“Kashechewan made headlines in October 2005 after hundreds of its residents were evacuated to several Ontario towns and cities because of drinking water contaminated by E. coli bacteria.The evacuation prompted the federal and Ontario governments to scramble for solutions to the issue of dirty drinking water in First Nations communities (Barrett 2007).” “The October 2005 evacuation of the community of Kashechewan, in northern Ontario, brought to national attention concerns about the water in this remote community. The evacuation came close on the heels of a report from the federal Office of the Auditor General that found that residents of First Nations communities did not benefit from a level of drinking water protection comparable to that of people living off reserves (OAG 2005 ).”
Selected Timeline of water quality problems in First Nations and Inuit communities
1970s In the 1970s project managers of the the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs Canada oversaw all aspects of on-reserve capital projects, largely without the involvement of First Nations communities.
1980s As a result of downsizing in the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs Canada since the mid-1980s, and in keeping with the devolution policy, there has been an increasing transfer of responsibilities to First Nations and tribal councils for capital and maintenance projects having First Nations including planning and implementation of various program activities on reserves. Consequently, there has been a continual transfer of responsibilities to First Nations and tribal councils for capital and maintenance projects, under funding arrangements with the Department (DINA 1995).
1989-90 Information disclosed in government reports inaccurately portrayed the status of conditions on reserves claiming that 92 percent of houses on reserves received adequate water services in 1993-94 (86 percent in 1989-90). However, a survey report released after our audit showed that only half of the water systems in First Nations communities are not experiencing problems and about one fifth of the systems pose potential health and safety concerns (DINA 1995:2390)
1992 the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs Canada started to develop an Environmental Issues Inventory and Remediation Plan in 1992, Over 1,600 environmental issues including soil contamination, were identified on inhabited reserves, and remediation would involve millions of dollars (DINA 1995).
1995 The Department of Indian and Northern Affairs Canada was responsible for providing services to over 800 on-reserve communities, most of which are located in rural and remote areas. Populations were rapidly outgrowing their already inadequate infrastructures.
2000 The contamination of drinking water in Walkerton, Ontario led to widespread illness that resulted in seven deaths and
ongoing illness for hundreds of residents. “A subsequent inquiry by Associate Chief Justice Dennis O’Connor of the Ontario Court of Appeal not only probed the causes, but also set out detailed recommendations on how to prevent a recurrence. This “Report of the Expert Panel on Safe Drinking Water for First Nations.” reflects pressures to increase drinking water safety that all jurisdictions in Canada have felt since the Walkerton tragedy.
2001 Department of Indian and Northern Affairs Canada also “uses funding arrangements with First Nations to define drinking water requirements. However, the wording of the arrangements is general and does not specifically refer to water systems. In 2001, in a submission to the Walkerton Inquiry, the Chiefs of Ontario stated: “First Nations, their consultants and federal officials are left to discern the applicable standards from vague and conflicting language in funding conditions, guidelines and manuals.” This situation had not changed significantly at the time of our audit. (OAG 2005 ).
2003 INAC and Health Canada developed the First Nations Water Management Strategy. The strategy is intended to fix most of the problems identified in the 2001 assessment and substantially improve the quality and safety of drinking water in First Nations communities by 2008. It covers the following seven elements: developing comprehensive guidelines, policies, and standards; educating on-reserve residents about drinking water issues; clarifying roles and responsibilities; building and upgrading water systems to standards; improving operation and maintenance; providing operator training; and expanding water testing. The departments have been trying to address the last five points since 1995 (OAG 2005 ).
2004 World Health Organization published Guidelines for Drinking Water Quality (3rd Edition).
2005 The Auditor General’s Office concluded that Indian and Northern Affairs Canada, Health Canada, and First Nations do not operate under a regulatory regime for drinking water as most provinces do. When it comes to the safety of drinking water, residents of First Nations communities do not benefit from a level of protection comparable with that of people living off reserves.2. There is no statute or regulation requiring the monitoring of the quality and safety of drinking water in First Nations communities. Health Canada relies on its staff and on First Nations to sample and test drinking water quality. Regular tests at the frequency recommended under the Guidelines for Canadian Drinking Water Quality are not carried out in most First Nations. When the results of these tests are reported to Health Canada, they are not properly recorded; nor are they systematically shared with Indian and Northern Affairs Canada. Finally, not all the information identified was collected by the departments in 2003–04 and some critical indicators were missing. Parliament is not yet receiving enough information about the First Nations Water Management Strategy and the quality and safety of drinking water in First Nations communities (OAG 2005 ).
2005 “Kashechewan made headlines in October 2005 after hundreds of its residents were evacuated to several Ontario towns and cities because of drinking water contaminated by E. coli bacteria.The evacuation prompted the federal and Ontario governments to scramble for solutions to the issue of dirty drinking water in First Nations communities (Barrett 2007).” “The October 2005 evacuation of the community of Kashechewan, in northern Ontario, brought to national attention concerns about the water in this remote community. The evacuation came close on the heels of a report from the federal Office of the Auditor General that found that residents of First Nations communities did not benefit from a level of drinking water protection comparable to that of people living off reserves (OAG 2005 ).”
2006 United Nations Draft Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Article 3 and 31. On June 29, 2006 the Human Rights Council adopted by a roll-call vote of 30 in favour to 2 against and 12 abstentions a resolution on the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The Declaration was forwarded to the UN General Assembly for approval in 2006. Canada has so far decided not to support this Declaration. Nonetheless, were a Canadian government to decide to support the Declaration, this would be a further indication of the policy direction Canada intended to pursue, and would be consistent with the general movement towards recognizing aboriginal self-government rights “GC Vol 2. 2006.
2006 The most recent Guidelines for Canadian Drinking Water Quality published in March, 2006 and last updated in September (HC 2006) did not provide an explicit definition of “safe drinking water” in Canada. There is no explicit definition in any provincial or territorial legislation (GN 2006).
2006 Kashechewan was under a precautionary Drinking Water Advisory, but Indian and Northern Affairs Canada claimed they had completed upgrades to the water systems and the system was closely monitored by a certified operator (DINA 2006 ).
2006 Indian and Northern Affairs Minister Jim Prentice launched a plan of action in March to address drinking water problems in First Nation communities. (CBC 2007)
2006 Indian and Northern Affairs Canada issued a priority list of communities identified as high risk drinking water systems with drinking water advisories in effect (DINA 2006 ). These high priority list in July 2006 included: New Brunswick: Woodstock, Pabineau; Quebec: Kitigan Zibi; Ontario: Constance Lake, Shoal Lake No. 40, Moose Deer Point, Northwest Angle, Ochiichagwe’babigo-ining, Kingfisher, Muskrat Dam Lake, Wabigoon Lake Ojibway; Alberta: Dene Tha’, Driftpile, Frog Lake; British Columbia: Shuswap, Toosey, Toquaht, Lake Babine (Fort Babine), Canoe Creek, Semiahmoo, Taku River Tlingit.”
2006 The Government of Canada’s panel of experts produced this report “Report of the Expert Panel on Safe Drinking Water for First Nations.” Vol. 1. November.
2007 Assembly of First Nations National Chief Phil Fontaine called for Ottawa’s immediate attention to the suicide-plagued community-in-crisis Kashechewan First Nation “Kashechewan and many other aboriginal communities in Ontario continue to struggle with poorly designed water plants or overly modern systems that are considered too costly to staff or maintain” [. . .] A report released in November by federal government adviser Alan Pope made a series of recommendations for Kashechewan, including moving the reserve to within the city limits of Timmins, Ont. – 450 kilometres from its current location on the shores of James Bay. Pope said the move would improve the lives of the community residents, particularly young people, by giving them access to high schools and post-secondary education, as well as economic opportunities and employment. But in a speech on [February 8, 2007] to the International Congress on Ethics in Gatineau, Que., Fontaine spoke out against such a move, saying that First Nations have been subject for too long to policy that amounts to “social engineering.” (Barrett 2007)
2007 Instead of providing new water plants for the 89 First Nations communities under a drinking water advisory, Health Canada will make better signs and posters warning people to stop drinking contaminated water. There are 600 First Nations communities concerned by the issue of clean water. Chief David General of Six Nations, ON knows his community members become ill from drinking tap water. “They would rather have a new water plant instead of a new communications strategy” (CBC 2007).
Kirkey, Sharon. 2011-06-10. “Despite billions spent, conditions on reserves have worsened: AG.” Postmedia News.
Barrett, Michael. 2007. Kashechewan ‘Community in Crisis’. Red Lake Net News. February 8.
CBC News. 2007. “Message about bad water on reserves not getting through: study.” May 11
DINA. 2006. “Priority List of First Nation Communities With High Risk Water Systems and Drinking Water Advisories.” Last Updated 2006-07-20
Government of Canada. 2006. “Report of the Expert Panel on Safe Drinking Water for First Nations.” Vol. 1. November 15.
Government of Canada. 2006. “Report of the Expert Panel on Safe Drinking Water for First Nations: Legal Analysis.” Vol. 2. November 15.
Government of Canada. 2006. Report, Presentations and Written Submissions to the Expert Panel on Safe Drinking Water for First Nations.
Health Canada. 2006. “Canadian Drinking Water Guidelines.” >> Environmental & Workplace Health. Last Updated: 2006-09-19.
Health Canada. 2007. “Drinking Water Advisories.” in First Nations & Inuit Health. May 10.
Office of the Auditor General (OAG). 2005. “Drinking Water in First Nations Communities.” Last Updated: 2005-09-29.
2011-05-25 Former auditor general Sheila Fraser gave her final news conference in which she deplored the fact that First Nations’ access to the basics of life — education, child welfare, clean drinking water and adequate housing — are persistently and dramatically substandard, and in some cases deteriorating.
Kirkey, Sharon. 2011-06-10. “Despite billions spent, conditions on reserves have worsened: AG.” Postmedia News.
Department of Indian and Northern Affairs Canada (DINA). 1995. “On-Reserve Capital Facilities and Maintenance.”
WHO. 2004. Guidelines for Drinking Water Quality (3rd Edition). World Health Organization, Geneva. Website accessed September
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