An recent Ipsos-Reid poll for Global Television and Postmedia News purported to show that two-thirds of Canadians believe First Nations are well treated by the federal government. They also believe First Nations receive too much funding from the feds, but still feel that Natives’ quality of life should be improved. Many others supported the statement that First Nations communities are responsible for their problems as they created them in the first place.

It seems contradictory, as improving our quality of life doesn’t come free. One 15-year-old estimate said an additional $7.5 billion a year would be needed to address social and economic problems faced by First Nations. The reluctance of Canadians to pay higher taxes is understandable. The Canadian Taxpayers Federation, a corporate-funded lobby group, annually pegs a “Tax Freedom Day,” which usually falls at some point in early June, as the date that Canadian taxpayers finally start earning for themselves after all municipal, provincial, federal taxes and sundry other levies are paid off.

Of course, the federation never calculates the benefits that taxpayers receive for their collective contribution, and this simplistic sloganeering strikes a chord with voters. It’s an example of how facts and statistics are managed, rearranged, twisted, ignored or hidden behind a layer of ignorance and beliefs. Unfortunately, the government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper unashamedly engages in this game of win-at-any-cost-to-truth.

In reality, the average Canadian receives an average of $24,000 in government spending from federal, provincial and municipal levels. Many different studies put the average spending on a resident of a First Nations reserve at between $11,000 and $13,000, or half the public benefits bestowed on non-Natives.

Yes, the standard of living has to go up, but polls indicate nobody wants to pay to ensure equal benefits for all if it comes out of their pocket. This is why I say the government spin doctors have earned their pay in using their figures of how much First Nations receive each year, demanding chiefs’ salaries be made public and broadly hinting at monetary mismanagement.

And yet, the Harper Conservatives have themselves run record budget deficits over the last few years. Few have suggested the federal government be placed under third-party management.

Apart from that hypocrisy, basic economic justice should add the funding shortfall to the fact that, for each dollar the average Canadian puts in his or her pocket, Canadian Aboriginals earn only 70 cents. Or that one in four Aboriginal children lives in poverty. And that, in most First Nations, and especially in remote communities, the cost of living is significantly higher. Attawapiskat residents, for example, pay $23.50 for a bounty of six apples and four small bottles of juice.

What this tells us is that, as First Nations, we are not doing our job to educate our Canadian neighbours. Our message is not reaching the majority of non-Aboriginal Canadians. We have to take a serious and strategic look at why that is and how we can change it.

Branding is about marketing a product or service, and now it’s time to market the public image of First Nations. We have to change the public image of Aboriginals as lazy, waiting for a hand out, on welfare, alcoholic and violent. Those stereotypes enable and abet injustice toward our people, as somehow less deserving of consideration. It’s time we set loose our own spin doctors to weave more truth into the debate over the reality of First Nations in Canada.