An Indigenous lawyer and author from British Columbia insists that First Nations people have to start looking out for their own interests, instead of relying on government assistance to bring their communities out of poverty.
Calvin Helin, author of Dances with Dependency, will be the keynote speaker at the Mar. 22, Aurora College conference in Fort Smith on the sustainable development of Aboriginal communities.
In an extensive Journal interview, Helin repeatedly emphasized the point that First Nations people can no longer turn to governments to solve their social and economic problems.
Helin believes what is needed to get First Nations communities out of poverty is a wealth of university-educated young Aboriginal people to provide the leadership for the generations to come.
“We have to have our own educated young people looking out for our own interests,” Helin says. “The first thing that needs to be addressed is Aboriginal people have to realize that the only person that can make a difference to your life is you. To think that a federal government bureaucracy or anybody else can have your self-interest in mind is absolutely ludicrous.”
Helin, son of hereditary chiefs of the Tsimshian Nation of B.C., is now the CEO and president of a range of companies including the publishing house formed to publish Dances with Dependency, after a host of mainstream publishers turned the book down.
Now the book has become a national best seller, with a second edition released in the USA.
Helin says the book’s message – that Aboriginal people need to get away from the welfare dependency governments implemented to control First Nations – has resounded with the grassroots of First Nation communities who understand the problems he wrote about and agree Aboriginal people have to do something about it.
“No culture, no tradition ever is frozen in time,” Helin says. “Life is a dynamic experience, not a static picture, and our cultures and traditions have to evolve to suit the circumstance of the environment. We’re not immune to the fact that every other ethnic group or nation, if they want to move forward, has to develop their own self-reliance through education, and their own economic wherewithal.”
In his writing and his speeches, Helin constantly refers back to the need for more education for First Nations people. But instead of calling on the government to provide the answers, he points to individual families and students as the people who have to show the initiative to succeed.
To that end, he has co-written a paper for the Macdonald Laurier Institute of Ottawa calling for a revamp of the funding policy for Aboriginal post-secondary education. The paper proposes providing a trust account of $4,000 for every Aboriginal child born in Canada, an account that would grow by $3,500 for each school year after Grade 6 that the child completes. After high school graduation the child would have $24,000, but the catch would be that the money could only be used to attend an accredited post-secondary program.
That system would replace the current practice of giving band governments an annual payment for post-secondary education for band members, which Helin believes results in corruption and political patronage while ignoring the over 50 per cent of Aboriginal people who live off-reserve.
Meanwhile, Helin is polishing his second book that deals with the culture of dependency seen across the world. He says the book shows that problems facing Aboriginal people in Canada, a result of being dependent on a “welfare state,” are the same as problems facing other dependent people across history, from blacks in American ghettos to East Germans under communism.
“The reason at the heart of all of this, why welfare doesn’t work, is evident in the sort of things my grandparents used to say to me,” Helin says. “My grandmother used to say if you want to feel better about yourself you have go outside and do something useful. If I just give you something, and you don’t work for it, we’re wired up in a way that you don’t get the psychological payoff of having earned it yourself.”