‘First Nations’ governments: Nepotism, greed and dysfunction

“On First Nations, the executive and legislative functions are fused in the Chief and council; there’s no official opposition, private and volunteer sectors are under-developed, sometimes grossly, and if there’s a press, it’s the furthest thing from independent.

“The per-capita costs of FN governments are huge, an average $17,000 compared to a per capita cost of $1,800 for all municipalities in the rest of Canada.”

It seems to me that far too much money intended for aboriginals goes into the pockets of the Chiefs, their families and cronies. Why should it cost 9.4 times as much to provide government services to the First Nations as it does to provide governance anywhere else in Canada? Distance will be a factor, certainly, but 9.4 times?

This is completely inexcusable, and we are being played for suckers.

And what happened with Bill C-575, the “First Nations Financial Transparency Act”? On March 2nd this year it passed a vote to be read a second time and was referred to the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, but died on the order paper after the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session, ended on March 26th 2011.

Now we need to get started on this issue all over again. And now that Harper has a majority, perhaps he can be encouraged to do the right thing and bring Bill C-575 back as Government legislation, thus ensuring its success.

Anything less would be a travesty of justice, permitting the continued looting of the taxpayers pockets and the denial of proper services to the majority of those intended to benefit.

Jeff Goodall.

Christie Blatchford in Hobbema: Where does the money go?

National Post

Christie Blatchford: July 16th, 2011

When you wade into the shark-infested waters of writing about matters aboriginal, you quickly learn how stupid you are.

Well, that’s my experience. So it was with the Caledonia occupation; and this week again with the shooting death of Ethan Yellowbird on the Samson Cree First Nation, one of four First Nations situated south of Edmonton at a place called Hobbema in English and Maskwacis, Cree for “bear hills,” to natives.

The good news is that there are many people who have spent lifetimes either trying to figure out the problems or observing them, who are infinitely smarter than me, and who sometimes kindly write in aid of my further education.

A classic example of what I mean is that I said once this week that the competition for seats on the Samson council (a dozen people ran for Chief, 92 for 12 council positions) was surely a sign of a healthy community, I was dead wrong.

In the federal riding of Trinity-Spadina in downtown Toronto where I live, such a great number of candidates might signal a raucous democracy.

But on reserves, it usually means just the opposite: The reason such jobs as so hotly contested is because residents are desperate to get a piece of a highly politicized pie, not to mention the jobs for family members.

One of the most cogent policy papers I have ever read in my life is on this very subject, First Nations governance.

Written by a former federal bureaucrat named John Graham who has made aboriginal governance his bailiwick, it was produced for the Ottawa-based Institute on Governance, a non-profit think tank.

Now a private consultant, though still a senior associate at the institute, Graham wrote it in April of last year. It identifies 11 significant problems with First Nations governments that act as a brake upon reserve health.

The impetus was the revelation that despite significant increases to First Nation funding (for water, housing, education and economic development, plus residential-school healing), the gap in what’s called “community well-being” between the rest of Canada and reserves just keeps on growing.

Community well-being is how the federal aboriginal-affairs people measure health — using indices of education, housing, labour force and income.

“So why is the gap widening?” Graham asked.

His answer: A principal cause is the degree of dysfunction in First Nations governance, which he describes as “unmatched in any other jurisdiction in Canada.”

The specific problems that collectively slow progress range from Ottawa’s own difficulties in taking a whole-of-community approach to development (there are 30 different federal departments that deal with First Nations) to an attitude of victimization from FNs (here, Graham quoted the writer Irshad Manji’s lovely line that “The language of victimhood seduces, then paralyzes”).

But the bottom line is that the average reserve works like a company town, and as someone who grew up in one in northwestern Quebec, I can’t help but agree.

In my town, the copper mine was the key employer, owned the golf course, recreation centre and swimming pool, and most of the houses.

Same thing on a reserve.

But in my small town, there were all the checks and balances Canadians expect — a free press, a hearty private sector and the mishmash of volunteer organizations such as churches, Legions, Moose Halls and watchdog or advocacy groups that together raised the alarm when the powers that be stepped out of line.

Not so on reserves, which may explain why walking into a band office is akin to that scene from old Westerns, where the stranger enters the bar and everyone turns to give her the long hard stare of suspicion.

On First Nations, the executive and legislative functions are fused in the Chief and council; there’s no official opposition, private and volunteer sectors are under-developed, sometimes grossly, and if there’s a press, it’s the furthest thing from independent.

At the Yellow Quill reserve in Saskatchewan, for instance, once-shiny fire trucks sat rusting and unused when I was there a couple of years ago — no volunteers. And on the Samson reserve, the only media is a radio station owned by the band and a newsletter from the Chief on the band website.

FN governments are also huge, “perhaps the largest local governments in the world,” Graham writes. He has been on 700-member reserves with a public service of 100.

Now, they have responsibilities that comparably sized municipal governments in the rest of the country would never dream of taking on, particularly the big three of education, health and social assistance.

In Manitoba, many First Nations governments even organize and pay for members’ funerals, which, in the more remote places, can mean flying in a whack of family from Winnipeg. It’s a cost that no other government, let alone a small local one, would saddle itself with or take on.

As Graham told me in an email, “It’s another indicator of how pervasive FN governments are in the lives of their citizens.”

The per-capita costs of FN governments are huge, an average $17,000 compared to a per capita cost of $1,800 for all municipalities in the rest of Canada. And they have unparalleled numbers of politicians too, many of them full-time and on full salaries.

(If the Indian Act mandates one chief and one councillor for every 100 band members, it also allows the band to customize the numbers, an option that in some cases has actually increased the number of politicians.)

This has led to frenzied family competition, what Graham calls “rapid political churn,” and the overt politicization of the public service.

I’ve just scratched the surface of what’s in the paper; you can find it yourself on the institute’s website, and his own website.

But it all goes to answer the question I had all week in Hobbema.

Samson has revenue from oil and gas royalties. In addition, aboriginal affairs records show that for the fiscal year ending March 31, 2010, Ottawa paid out a little more than $30-million in the usual monies to the band. That doesn’t count what Alberta may send Samson’s way.

So why does all that money buy so little for the people in that run-down, impoverished place?

National Post


See original here.

See John Graham’s “The First Nation Governance System: A Brake on Closing the Community Well-Being Gap” here.

See my “First Nations Issues Category” here.