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Control's the thing (Indian Act treats Natives as pawns).

Alan Isfeld, a Waywayseecappo First Nation member, has seen the nasty side of the Indian Act system as he tries to undo what he sees as an abusive situation. He has been lobbying the government and the Sagkeeng First Nation to pay an Ontario construction firm for work it did on a project for the band the department says wasn't approved. Wing Construction is out close to $3 million because the band told him it had the approvals. Along the way, Isfeld said, he has seen how the department uses its influence and power to keep people in line.

"It's all control. The federal government is going to demonstrate that they're in control. First Nations are simply pawns. But they're our pawns and it's our game. And if you dare to cross that line to think that you're going to join our game, then we'll break you. And that's what they did to Wing Construction," he said.

Isfeld, like many political observers, noticed the rampant patronage and the lack of accountability in the Canadian system that was revealed by the Human Resources Development scandal last year and he believes that culture of using the people's money to further political agendas has been transferred to First Nations governments.

"So who do you blame? Do you blame the First Nations people? I don't think so," he asked. "I think you have to blame the system that's wrong and that's the existing system. There has to be changes to that. There's a lot of wrong doing. This wrong doing is ... I can't point the finger at individuals. The system is designed that way. If you want to change, you have to change the system, because the system will automatically change the people. People will follow the system and that's what's happened here. So to lay blame on a whole bunch of people, I don't think is necessarily right, or fair."

Asked if the individuals within the system shouldn't shoulder most of the blame, he suggested that it was the federal government that imposed the system on First Nations and it's the federal government that's going to have to clean it up.

"It could be me in there. It could be my brother in there. We'd be given the same guidelines that these guys are given and we'd have to follow them or we wouldn't have a job," he said. "So they're not even selling their souls by doing that. They've got to follow those rules. They've got to follow those policies and those rules breed corruption because the system is corrupt. They're just going out and doing the job they were hired to do and the job they were hired to do is designed to keep the system the way it is and not to allow for self government.

"The chiefs and people know that if you go against the system, they're going to cut back the funding somewhere and the people within your community are going to suffer The chiefs know that. So the chiefs are hostages to the system as much as the people that are living on the reserves are."

But isn't it the individual's responsibility to take a stand and force an end to a practice he sees as corrupt, he was asked.

"Everybody suffers because he stands up. Everything in the community, every dollar are survival issues. The chiefs are stuck behind the eight-ball. They are not given the authority to do what they want to do. The authority that they're given is dictated by the programs and the policies of Indian Affairs," he replied. "Do you think the chiefs want to see their people in poverty? Do you think the chiefs want to see their youth suffering? Do you think they want to see the suicides? Absolutely not!"
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Publication:Wind Speaker
Date:Jan 1, 2001
Previous Article:Misery is big business (many are willing to exploit social problems on reserves).
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