Canada

Cooling the racial pressure cooker

Dale Eisler March 31 1980
Canada

Cooling the racial pressure cooker

Dale Eisler March 31 1980

Cooling the racial pressure cooker

In downtown Regina, the new and glittering 20-storey office tower of the Saskatchewan Government Insurance stands as a symbol of the province’s new prosperity. But in its shadow there are still huddled the run-down neighborhoods of littered lawns and broken windows—the homes of the native poor. Unemployment among the province’s 120.000 native people runs at an estimated 40 per cent, a fact made all the worse when compared to the province’s over-all booming employment record. Only a year ago a study conducted by federal government consultant Ken Svenson predicted a gloomy future of racial strife. Said Svenson: "If racial turmoil does occur in Canada, it is likely to begin in Saskatchewan and spread to other areas."

Taking heed of that report, the Saskatchewan government is about to give the native urban poor—centred mostly in Regina, Saskatoon, Prince Albert and North Battleford—a share in the caring society. In a budget brought down early this month, the government of Allan Blakeney announced a $31-million program to help native people out of the poverty cycle. In-

eluded are plans to change school curriculums to gear them more closely to the needs and history of native students, a push for more native students and teacher aids, and the provision of 1,000 houses for native people in four urban centres to ease the chronic shortage. Deputy Minister of Urban Affairs Don Moroz, who headed the government’s study of the problems of native people, also hopes that the public sector will be able to set an example in the hiring of natives. Says Moroz of the government initiatives: "There is reason not to be overly pessimistic. It is possible to avoid the situation becoming worse. It can be rescued."

The long-awaited program will likely be a boost to the quiet but sure improvement in racial tensions in the past few years. Just three years ago Regina was second only to Edmonton in the rate of crime in Canada. The downtown was plagued by fights in bars between natives and nonnatives. Recalls Police Chief .AI Huget: "There were rumors around of natives stashing firearms for action against the police and talk of racism in the police force.” But now, complaints by native people of police mistreatment have declined from 20 in 1978 to four last year. Although there has been only a marginal decrease in the over-all crime rate—3.3 per cent in 1979—murder fig-

ures, the majority of which involved native people, plunged from 10 in 1977 to three in 1979.

So far spokesmen for native groups have been either quietly optimistic or openly suspicious of government promises. Bruce Flamont, southwest area director of the Association of Metis and NonStatus Indians, said the signs of improvement may be illusory. Native people have remained quiet while awaiting promised changes, he says, but a great deal depends on how quickly the government moves. Warns Flamont: "Those on the outside can’t count on this type of attitude for much longer.” Dale Eisler