Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Monopoly on Suffering

Part and parcel of the post-modern Western world is the victim status coveted but not really merited by many. Throw a rock (not literally) and one is likely to hit a person who themselves or their near and/or distant relations have suffered in some way, shape or form. North America is crammed to the rafters with such poor, huddled masses. Given the opportunity to live in freedom, the poor became well-off and the huddled stretched their arms as far as they could. But there will always be those who did not succeed in any measure not because of some real state-sponsored unfairness but because thriving did not suit them. It became easier for them to blame others for their short-comings. They even had help pointing the fingers. This extended blame game resulted in some kow-towing and some welfarism but never in the realisation of the human potential. Why try to live in dignity when one can simply blame others for their problems?

The Attawapiskat First Nation Reservation is the most recent example of decrepitude and victim status declaration in a history of decrepitude and victim status declaration.

The latest:

Opposition MPs urged the prime minister Wednesday to go see for himself the realities of life on a Northern Ontario reserve struggling with a housing shortage.

Stephen Harper said he's sending the auditors.

The federal government has taken control over public funding out of the hands of Attawapiskat and ordered an audit to find out where federal money spent in the Cree community has gone over the last five years and why it hasn't help ward off the housing crisis residents now face.

"The government has invested more than $90 million in this community and the results are not acceptable," Harper said.

"We are going to take further measures to ensure better outcomes."

The Opposition demanded a more humanitarian — and human — response, calling for both a short-term and long-term plan to address the reserve's needs.

"An entire Canadian community living in Third World country, that's what we see right now, in the Arctic cold," NDP Leader Nycole Turmel said.

"The prime minister should go and see by himself. You should sleep in a shack with a sleeping bag. You'll see the sleeping bags provided by the Red Cross is not the solution."

I don't know how sleeping in a shack will help but perhaps Miss Turmel might enlighten the rest of the white liberal world by doing so and reporting her experiences. It will be like an "Occupation" all over again. After all, it was privileged white people like herself who put aboriginals on northern ghettos (or "reservations") that ultimately served to isolate them and allow them to maintain aspects of cultures that are antediluvian and - in some respects- a form of apartheid. This separation of people is on its face racist and regressive as it robs Canadian aboriginal people the free access to education, jobs and social and cultural opportunities. Assimilation or acclimatisation is (or at least should be) expected of ALL citizens so that we may have consensus and harmony. Did we not expect the Chinese workers in the nineteenth century to learn English? We sure did and I'm sure their descendants benefited from that.  Racism of lowered expectations - the "noble savage" living in his tar paper shack as is his cultural wont- just boggles the mind.

Back to Attawapiskat....

If the Canadian government invested $90 million in a town of 1300, how did it all go to hell? Perhaps just handing out money to people who cannot (or will not) care for new homes is a bad investment. In a country where educational and professional opportunities are open to all (especially so with "affirmative action"- the racism of lowered expectations in the workplace), how do people fall through the cracks?

Jump to North Korea.

Korea was divided in half (North and South) in 1945. Prior to that, Korea was annexed by Japan under which the Korean people were brutalised. North Korea invaded South Korea in 1950 and ceased somewhat in 1953.  Flash-forward fifty-eight years and one sees that while North Korea is still languishing under a communist dictator, South Korea thrives as a First World nation.

As of 2009, 2,952 North Koreans sought refuge in South Korea where a sort of "right of return" is granted (as of this year, 175 North Koreans sought refuge in Canada). Integrating North Koreans into South Korea is a lengthy and difficult process, especially considering the political and academic realities of the refugees. Having lived under a communist dictatorship and having little or no English-speaking or computer skills, it is difficult for North Koreans to acquire gainful employment. Added to this, many North Koreans have mental or physical health issues. The South Korean government has set up transition programs like Hanawon to help them and offers them ₩20 million to resettle and ₩320,000 monthly ($17, 882.39 - $285 CDN respectively). Often, however, many North Koreans are not treated equitably by their southern cousins, another impediment to living successful lives.


For decades after the 1950-53 Korean War, the South saw just a trickle of arrivals from its impoverished hardline socialist neighbour. In recent years, there has been a steady stream.

Of the 23,700 to arrive since 1953, some 10,000 came in the past four years.

All new arrivals must spend three months in the Hanawon government resettlement centre, where they get job training and learn basic survival skills -- such as how to buy a subway ticket or use a credit card.
They also get financial and housing support upon leaving.

"They get education at Hanawon for three months, but many times that's not enough because the system is so different in the South," said Ma Soon-Hee, who herself fled the North.

"Adjusting to the capitalist system is the most difficult. Defectors often have a hard time understanding that they have to work hard to earn more, and that people get different levels of salaries."

Some people who left family in the North sometimes say they think of going back because they feel lonely and find it hard to make a living in the South, she told AFP.

"Life can be hard for people who were allotted food, work and money for their entire lives in the North... the freedom they get after coming here can be tarnished by harsh reality," Ma said....

A July report from the International Crisis Group think-tank starkly spelt out the problems, saying almost refugees fail to integrate or thrive.

New arrivals on average were significantly smaller, worse educated, less healthy and less likely to have useful skills, but must adapt to a country where credentials and networks are essential to find jobs.

Coming from a country where an all-powerful bureaucracy makes almost all life decisions, they "describe a bewildering rush of modernity, consumption and choice that rapidly overwhelms them", the report said.

Yet, if governmental or populist support was found lacking, North Koreans opened their own businessesThe unemployment rate in South Korea is currently at 3.3 percent (the unemployment rate for North Koreans is at 9.2 %). Many are willing to take blue collar jobs as they are the easiest to secure.

By no means am I attempting to paint the North Korean defector situation as rosy. However, the desire to succeed is there. How is it that a defector who has known only a life of deprivation in a totalitarian state and struggles to survive in a capitalist one has more drive than a citizen who has known only the largesse of a state willingly duped into guilt?

Listen to the voices of optimism:

Twenty-three-year-old Hana Shin (not her real name) came directly to Yeomyung from China about a year ago, where she became a refugee after her entire family died of disease in North Korea while she was still a teenager. Eyes watering at the memory of her parents and sighing that she lives alone in a small apartment in Seoul, she is still optimistic. 

"In North Korea I was locked in, I was brainwashed," Shin said, echoing the sentiments of most of her peers." Now I can get the education I want." 

Prior to arriving in the South, the recently-orphaned Shin had tried to scratch out a living selling fruit, moving around from rented room to rented room and facing constant harassment from North Korean police who would confiscate her fruit as unlawful capitalist contraband. 

Deprived of a way to make a living, she eventually migrated to China with two friends, but ended up wandering around the border area in search of food, sometimes camping out, until being taken in by sympathetic ethnically Korean Chinese. 

In spite of her bleak past, the well-dressed and jeweled Shin possesses that sassy liveliness that is so South Korean, laughing while saying that she likes speaking Korean with the handful of foreign volunteers, describing their rudimentary language skills as 'kwi o wo yo," or "cute." 

While my interpreter was on a break, Shin and I stood near a world map tacked to a wall in the school's small lounge. Pointing to several countries in succession - France, Germany, Australia and others - I asked her in my passable but very basic Korean, "ka bonjok isoy yo?" meaning "have you been there?" She answered no, but plans to visit a good number of countries once she gets a job - something unthinkable just a few years ago, when she was focused only on survival.


Defying the trend and societal prejudices, a small but increasing number of defectors are not only aspiring to higher-paid employment but to one day own their own business. Merry Year Foundation (MYF), a non-profit body set up in late 2007 with a mission of providing micro credit loans and building social enterprises, is helping them realize that dream.

“I want to one day set up my own business to help other new defectors settle in the South,” said a 45-year-old male defector who asked to be identified by his surname Cho and works at Mezzanine Ecowon, a small manufacturing company established with the help of the foundation.

Some people are thrown a bone and can make a life for themselves. Others are thrown the meat and let it rot.

(Muchas gracias)


Anne said...

My theory on the reservations: the smarter and ambitious natives left long ago. You have a sort of depleted population left. No proof, just a thought.

I see other potential depleted populations in the world, like Gypsies. Long, long ago the smarter and more ambitious ones left the caravan life style and blended into Europe in general.

Osumashi Kinyobe said...

What you said.

I do not believe that there is no way for aboriginals to survive in this country. There are many hard-working aboriginals who hold down jobs and look after their families. By giving hand-out, one only ensures dependency and uselessness.

Anonymous said...

When the Irish, and the Germans, and the Italians, and Russians, etc, arrived in this country, even as late as 100 years ago, they arrived with nothing. They were not given a hand out and they flourished. They were highly motivated, because no one was going to bail them out.

~Your Brother~

Osumashi Kinyobe said...


Throw a rock and you will find a person or persons who suffered greatly, yet manage to pull themselves out of bed each day.

If aboriginals suffered greatly, so much so that they can't work or be made to account for $90 million frittered away, how does that explain the lot who work in the oil industry and keep their own homes?