1. First Nations must assume more responsibility: Atleo
TIMES COLONIST, Judith Lavoie, Times Colonist March 9, 2011 - First Nations across Canada are increasingly convinced they must move away from the Indian Act and take responsibility for their own communities, says Shawn Atleo, national chief of the Assembly of First Nations. Control of education is key to change, Atleo said in an interview from an AFN forum in Vancouver. "But it's also about the idea of new mechanisms to help describe the relationship between First Nations and government -concepts that are being discussed here like a First Nations auditor general and First Nations ombudsperson," said Atleo, who believes the ideas are gaining traction with politicians of all levels. "Now we need to see support that will move us beyond the Indian Act. It is not something that's helpful to any of us," he said. Moving away from the Indian Act, within the next three to five years, means giving power back to First Nations people rather than more control by a ballooning Indian and Northern Affairs Department bureaucracy, Atleo said. The Indian Act, enacted in 1876, controls most aspects of reserve life, including determining who qualifies as a status Indian, which is often controversial. "First Nations need to be involved in determining who their own citizens are," Atleo said. Successful self-governments are being studied and the framework should be the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, he said. Indian Affairs Minister John Duncan was not available to comment Tuesday. A key part of any new system will be increased transparency and accountability on reserve, Atleo said. However, a private member's bill that would require First Nations to publish federally-funded salaries and expenses paid to chiefs and councillors is not the answer, Atleo said. "This bill is a narrow approach to a single issue and what we need to get to is a more comprehensive approach that deals with all issues of accountability and transparency including the government's inability to account for its own spending," he said. An approach that will give more power to First Nations while getting maximum results for resources is required, instead of one that will increase finger pointing between government and First Nations, Atleo said. "We need to tackle it together and come up with something jointly designed that connects responsibility with consequences." The bill, introduced by Saskatchewan MP Kelly Block, passed second reading in the House of Commons last week and is now at the committee stage.
2. Federal legislation ignores aboriginal concerns, assembly chief says
GLOBE AND MAIL, Gloria Galloway – March 8, 2011 - The head of Canada’s largest aboriginal organization says federal politicians have ignored the concerns of his people as they move ahead on two pieces of legislation affecting first nations communities. One is a bill introduced in the Senate that would allow the government in Ottawa to set regulations to improve the deplorable state of on-reserve drinking water. The other is a private member’s bill introduced by Conservative MP Kelly Block that would require public disclosure of federal money paid to individual aboriginal leaders. Shawn Atleo, the National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, was delighted late last year when Prime Minister Stephen Harper committed the federal government to working with first nations groups to advance education reform. But when MPs choose to act unilaterally, solutions to the problems faced by first nations people will not be found, Mr. Atleo said Tuesday in an interview from British Columbia, where he was attending a forum with other aboriginal leaders. Ms. Block’s Bill 575, which last week passed a critical first vote in the House of Commons, claims to be about accountability, he said, but “it’s a very narrow approach to a single issue. And what we’re talking about here in Vancouver is the need to have a more comprehensive approach that deals with all issues of accountability and transparency.” The Canadian Taxpayers Federation created an uproar last year by releasing a study that used federal documents to show that a number of aboriginal leaders were making more than the premiers of the provinces in which they lived. The Assembly of First Nations responded by pointing out that the average band leader’s salary was just $36,845. But chiefs from across Canada responded to the controversy by voting in favour of a motion calling for voluntary public disclosure of the remuneration paid. Ms. Block said first nations community members have been trying to access information about their leaders’ salaries for many years. “I strongly believe in accountability and transparency and believe that first nations communities, like other Canadians, deserve that kind of accountability and transparency,” she said in defending her bill. Mr. Atleo said the legislation ignores the accountability gap that has been highlighted within the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs. Last year, for instance, the federal Auditor General found the department had made limited progress in the way it supported, administered and reported on its education programs for students living on reserves. First nations communities want to be able to hold their own governments accountable, Mr. Atleo said. But Bill 575, he said, “is another example of giving greater power and responsibility to the Minister of Indian Affairs. What we want to do is give more power to the people.” Mr. Atleo makes a similar criticism about Bill S-11 that would federally regulate drinking water on reserves. Not only were first nations leaders left out of the process of crafting that legislation, he said, but no money has been offered to implement it. “This would require new regulations but it really wouldn’t change anything because safe drinking water requires much more than new regulations. It’s going to require new infrastructure, facilities, skills, training, resources,” he said, pointing out that there are more than 100 drinking-water advisories on Canadian reserves at the moment. It’s a situation he termed “outrageous.” Representatives of the Indian Affairs Department say the regulatory system envisioned in Bill S-11 would be rolled out gradually, targeting high-risk areas first and would be done in concert with a national investment plan. But the bill makes it clear that the federal government, not first nations members, would develop the regulations and that the federal rules would supersede existing bylaws on the reserves.
3. Gunter: First Nations Transparency Act a step in right direction
EDMONTON JOURNAL, Lorne Gunter - March 9, 2011 - A private member's bill, introduced last October by Saskatchewan Tory MP Kelly Block, passed second reading in the House of Commons on last Wednesday with the help of 15 Liberal MPs. The First Nations Transparency Act would mandate annual salary and expense disclosures for aboriginal leaders, similar to the disclosures required of most non-aboriginal politicians across Canada. It's a tiny victory. And it could be a transitory one, too. Even if Bill C-575 makes it out of committee and wins approval on third reading in the House of Commons -and then makes it through the Senate -it will do little more than require chiefs and band councillors annually to publish how much they have received from band funds and businesses for salaries, stipends, honoraria, per diems, bonuses and expenses. It won't open First Nations ledgers to independent audits or make bands subject to access to information requests. Bill C-575 will not mandate the kind of overhaul of First Nations governance needed to end the dysfunction that plagues many reserves. Moreover, the bill is a long way from law still. Last year Bill C-391, another private member's bill -this one seeking the dismantling of the long-gun registry -passed second reading and survived the committee stage largely intact, only to be voted down on third reading. Eight New Democrats who had voted for the bill on second reading changed sides and voted against it on third. The same fate could easily befall the First Nations Transparency Act. Liberal leaders are applying a lot a pressure to defeat the bill. They claim support for the bill is based on racism. Anita Neville, a Liberal member on the House of Commons Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, insists C-575 "is making an insinuation about the nature of First Nations' leadership and governance. It perpetuates myths and stereotypes that communities right across this country have been working hard to overcome." And perhaps she's right, to a point. The bill does imply there is substantial incompetence -and in some cases even corruption -in on-reserve government. However, if the implication is correct and identifies a problem that needs correcting, then as hurtful as the implication may be, it is an unavoidable step toward a solution. Still, being labelled racist and intolerant is seen by many liberals as the greatest possible sin. So the 15 Liberals who sided with the Tories to pass the bill this week could easily vote against it on third reading if they succumb to the guilt being heaped on them by their own leaders. Bloc and NDP MPs are an entirely lost cause. All of them voted against Block's bill at second reading. But let's hope the bill isn't defeated; let's hope it passes. Even though it is not a huge step forward, it is at least a good first step toward improving on-reserve governance. And First Nations governance must get better if aboriginal Canadians ever want to achieve self-government. This whole flap began because the Canadian Taxpayers Federation was sent documents more than a year ago revealing staggering compensation paid to the chief and band council on the Peguis reserve (pop. 7,000) in Manitoba. In 2008-09, four of five Peguis band councillors were paid more than the prime minister. Chief Glenn Hudson made $206,000 -tax-free because it was paid on the reserve -and he was the lowest paid of the five. During the months that have followed, the federation has learned that "approximately 50 reserve politicians made more than the Prime Minister of Canada" in 2009. "Approximately 160 reserve politicians made more than their respective provincial premiers." In excess of 700 First Nations politicians made more than $100,000. One in Nova Scotia made over $900,000. No doubt this is not just an "aboriginal thing." If nonaboriginal politicians had as much public money flow through their hands, with the same lack of accountability, no doubt many of them would have $300,000 plus compensation, too. Once in the early 1990s, I did an investigation of pay for Alberta's county councillors. Their average reported income from council duties was $12,000 per year. Unreported were all their travel allowances, per diems and pay for attending committee meetings and hearings. It was common for councillors to pull in $55,000 to $70,000 per year while appearing to serve their voters for just $1,000 a month. That was just as wrong. Now that it is easier to learn what county representatives are making, their total compensation has not gone down. Still, at least their voters can now see what the representatives are making and decide whether or not they're worth it. On-reserve voters should have access to the same information. Liberal, NDP and Bloc MPs who oppose C-575 because it is racist aren't striking a blow for tolerance, they are really just preserving the power of the chiefs and band councillors at the expense of on-reserve democracy and transparency. By refusing to support Block's reforms, our opposition politicians may believe they are standing up for aboriginal Canadians. In truth, though, they're practising political correctness at the expense of fair and competent on-reserve government. Lorne Gunter is a columnist with the Edmonton Journal.
4. Aboriginal organizations out of touch on issues
TROY MEDIA, Joseph Quesnel - LETHBRIDGE, AB, Mar. 9, 2011/ Troy Media/ – As far as the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) and many other Aboriginal organizations are concerned, any government bill affecting Aboriginal Canadians will never have been prepared with adequate consultation with First Nations, include enough funding, or respect First Nations constitutional rights enough. Ever. This position should upset those First Nations which have to deal on a daily basis with the struggles facing their communities; struggles which they know can only be addressed with legislation. It may be time to go directly to the people most affected to gauge their views. Safe drinking water on reserves - Take, for example, Bill S-11, the Safe Drinking Water Act for First Nations, which would create standards for water quality on First Nations across Canada. Many Aboriginals are already familiar with the spate of water advisories which describe the state of drinking water on their reserve. Water quality is a serious issue for many bands, one requiring immediate addressing. Over the past several years, the federal government has been moving to address this critical issue. While I was a reporter with the Drum/First Perspective, an Aboriginal newspaper, I covered all of the federal initiatives being discussed and adopted. Ottawa compiled a list of the First Nations in need of water quality improvements and ranked them according to which communities needed immediate action. The latest opponent to Bill S-11 includes Ontario Regional Chief Angus Toulouse, who said: “Our opposition to this Bill is a clear indication that we will not accept legislation that disrespects our constitutional and treaty rights and is unilaterally imposed on us.” Toulouse later switched strategy, attacking the bill on the grounds that it lacks adequate support for capacity and infrastructure. These are all valid concerns, but these supposed shortcomings should not be used as a reason to stonewall or to adopt a rejectionist attitude. One could almost cut and paste the reasons used by Aboriginal leadership for rejecting a government bill affecting First Nations, particularly if it is Conservative. That is not to say that jurisdiction is never a legitimate issue. It often is. But this issue alone should not kill every bill whose aim is to improve the conditions faced by many First Nation communities. For example, federal legislation on matrimonial property on many reserves is still not welcomed by many Aboriginal organizations, including some women’s groups which had raised the matter for decades. Have you ever wondered how average band members would respond to certain legislation if given all the facts and the realities they face? When Indian Affairs Minister Robert Nault’s First Nations Governance Act, introduced by the Liberals in 2002, was being debated, independent polling found that most First Nation respondents supported the bill. It was the lobby groups and chiefs that opposed it. The Frontier Centre for Public Policy recently released polling data conducted for its fourth annual Aboriginal Governance Index (AGI) which found that First Nations supported matrimonial property legislation on reserves and were also concerned about the state of First Nation women. Many believed that band governments were not doing enough to either combat violence against women or consult with women when making important decisions affecting the community. While no government should necessarily rule by polls, the government needs to seek more direction on key First Nation legislation from the people most affected. This may require a lot of effort, time and money, as First Nation communities are difficult to poll. Population numbers often conflict and many are not interested in participating in surveys, but it would be worth it. Patronizing leadership - Despite their claims they represent all First Nations, some Aboriginal organizations can be quite patronizing about their own people. Again, when the Frontier Centre released its AGI results some Aboriginal organizations ignored the data because they do not trust their own people’s perceptions, quickly dismissing their own people’s opinion about governance and services. This is not to say that the chiefs or Aboriginal organizations themselves should be ignored. They have their place. But it is not appropriate to have them speaking on behalf of everybody in their communities. It’s time to realize there is more to Indian Country than just the AFN or other Aboriginal organizations. Joseph Quesnel is a policy analyst with the Frontier Centre for Public www.fcpp.org
1. Manitoba First Nation stage Ottawa sit-in to demand meeting with minister
POSTMEDIA NEWS, Greg Markey - March 9, 2011 - OTTAWA — Fourteen members of Manitoba's Sayisi Dene First Nation staged a sit-in Wednesday at the office of Indian Affairs Minister John Duncan. They were demanding a meeting with Duncan to discuss the First Nation's claim filed in 2000. They also want an apology and compensation for being uprooted in 1956, when about 200 members of the band were forcibly removed from their traditional lands around Little Duck Lake, in Manitoba's far north, to Churchill, on the shores of Hudson Bay. Joining the sit-in was Niki Ashton, the NDP MP for Churchill, and Arne Peltz, the band's lawyer. "They have come a long way with a very strong message to the minister," said Ashton. "They want a meeting with (Duncan) immediately." Duncan wasn't in Ottawa, so Peltz asked for a conference call. The minister's office has said that the report regarding the claim is being reviewed, but that it will take time to come to resolve. David McArthur, Duncan's chief of staff, agreed to speak with Chief Jimmy Thorassie, as well as Ashton and Peltz. Thorassie said McArthur will work with the minister to arrange a meeting with the band during the next few weeks, asking that their discussions be put in writing. Thorassie said the group would have preferred if the response came directly from the minister. "We were prepared to wait out if nobody came," he said. "If it came to the point of getting charged, getting pulled in jail; we were prepared for that, too." The protesters left unescorted after the meeting ended. Michele-Jamali Paquette, Duncan's press secretary, said that the federal government is committed to resolving long-standing disputes. "Our office received the request for a meeting and indicated that he was unavailable to meet with Sayisi Dene today but was — and remains open to — scheduling a meeting at a future date."
2. Rama First Nation members call for audit amid financial crunch despite casino
CANADIAN PRESS, Colin Perkel – March 9, 2011 - TORONTO - Members of the Chippewas of Rama First Nation, home to a lucrative casino, are calling for a forensic audit or RCMP probe after learning their community faces a cash crunch. In an open letter obtained by The Canadian Press — titled "Where did all the money go?" — they say they do not understand what happened to millions of dollars in casino revenues. "This reserve is in trouble," the letter signed by "Worried Band Members" states. "How is this possible?" In a 20-minute speech two weeks ago, Chief Sharon Stinson Henry stunned a community forum when she said the 1,500-member band was feeling the global economic downturn. All band employees would forgo cost-of-living raises, see vacation time capped, and sick time slashed, Stinson Henry said. She also announced a buyout plan in which employees could resign in exchange for three weeks of pay per year of service. "It was just silence," band member Jennifer Jewell said of the reaction at the forum. "There was no chance to ask questions in front of everybody. I think there was a fear that the meeting could have got out of hand with people getting upset." In a leaflet, the band administration explained it had to "significantly" reduce spending, and that layoffs might be necessary if cost cutting fell short. In an interview Wednesday, Stinson Henry rejected suggestions of a fiscal crisis, saying the community was "in great shape." The six-term chief refused to discuss budget figures but said a pending decline in casino revenues has prompted "a good hard look" at the fiscal future. "We want to operate on a balanced budget," the six-term chief said. "That's just exactly what we're doing." She would not say how many of the 400 band employees had applied for a buyout nor how many council was hoping to grant in an effort to trim the band's estimated $24-million payroll. Feedback to the proposed measures was "very positive," she added. Over the past 15 years, the casino has raked in about $5.5 billion in gross revenues and profits of $1.5 billion, with a sizable part of net revenues going to the band. "Since the casino opened in 1996, it has generated hundreds of millions of dollars for our community," the open letter states. "Yet now we have nothing to show for it." The letter questions whether fraudulent activity had occurred. Jewell, who works occasionally in reserve stores, said she supported the call for a forensic probe. "They mismanaged our funds and they're blaming it on the economy," she said. Stinson Henry said the financial statements were audited annually and available to band members. Some Rama members said they were afraid to speak out for fear of being ostracized but Cherlye Snache, who manages the reserve food bank, blamed the financial crunch in part on failed business ventures. She also criticized generous salaries and perks along with severance packages for council members. "It just been mismanagement of funds, bad investments, all these high-paying wages," Snache said. The chief did announce that she and the six council members, who each make more than $100,000, would take a 10 per cent pay cut as part of the austerity drive. In 2008, the Ontario government looked into about $3 million in payments Casino Rama had made to a First Nation that did not officially exist. In addition, millions that were meant to help lift First Nations out of poverty went to legal fees and other expenses.
3. First Nations agree to drop marina suit - Esquimalt, Songhees bands give support, receive economic benefits
TIMES COLONIST, Andrew A. Duffy - March 10, 2011 - Calling it a significant milestone for the project, the developer of a proposed $18.5-million luxury marina off Songhees announced Wednesday it has reached an agreement with the Esquimalt and Songhees First Nations that will drop a lawsuit that threatened to hold up the project. The deal between the two nations and the Victoria International Marina -WAM Development Group and local developer Bob Evans -offers economic benefits and job training to the Esquimalt and Songhees First Nations in return for an agreement to cease litigation and support the project as it seeks federal and provincial approval. The two nations had gone to the Federal Court of Canada seeking a judicial review of the federal approval for the marina. That application said the marina would have had an adverse effect on the rights of both nations and that the federal government failed to adequately consult with First Nations on a navigable-waters permit. Lachlan MacLean, vicepresident of WAM Development Group, said the announcement takes the project another step closer to becoming a reality. "Consultation with First Nations is a key component of the Crown lease application for the province and for the federal environmental assessment review process," MacLean said. "It was very important that the consultation with the Songhees and Esquimalt took place." MacLean said the proponents did not feel they had been forced to negotiate because of the litigation. "We have been having an ongoing discussion with those two nations -the first discussion was four years ago -and whilst we were named as respondents in the judicial review, I think the [reason the] two nations were asking for judicial review was their concern with the processes of the provincial and federal departments," he said, adding through it all WAM continued to consult with them. "We continued to talk about the project to increase their understanding and knowledge and also until we got to a point where we understood what their interests are in their land and seabed around the lands and their historical use of the harbour." The economic benefit the nations will get out of the marina, should it come to fruition, will be based loosely on the kinds of calculations done to determine leases on provincial Crown lots. "To a certain extent, it doesn't take into consideration whether we make money or not. It's a theoretical calculation as to the potential growth revenue of the site and a percentage rent is applied to that," said MacLean. He said that he could not provide a ballpark estimate of a low or high figure the nations could expect to receive. WAM also plans to work with the nations to offer some marina employment and job training by looking at opportunities that might exist with the future tenants of the marina and commercial buildings that will be part of it -restaurants, boat builders and the like. Neither Chief Robert Sam of Songhees nor Chief Andy Thomas of Esquimalt was available for comment Wednesday, but both have endorsed the deal. "We are very pleased with the outcome of these negotiations. We are being acknowledged as nations and as governments with legitimate legal interests in our lands, and in this case, in the seabed around our lands," Sam said in a news release. "This is the proper way to approach a First Nation and to reach accommodation and reconciliation." Thomas said the agreement should be considered a template for use in any future development along the harbour. "Over the past decade, our First Nations have become integral players in the economy of the Victoria area. We see this as an opportunity and a responsibility. This responsibility extends not only to securing the well-being of our communities but in ensuring the protection of our natural environment," he said. The marina itself is still a long way from being a done deal. It is still awaiting provincial approval on its Crown lease application and approval from Transport Canada on a new navigable-waters permit based on the marina's reduced size. The proponents reduced the size of the marina to 29 slips last fall in accordance with the wishes of the City of Victoria.
4. Kwantlen elder, 71, shot dead
VANCOVUER SUN, Kim Bolan - March 10, 2011 - Members of the Kwantlen First Nation are reeling after a respected 71-year-old elder was found shot to death Monday evening. The Integrated Homicide Investigation Team pored over the house Tuesday where George Antone was found with several fatal bullet wounds the previous day. Sgt. Peter Thiessen said police are compiling a list of possible suspects but "we are not closing the door on anything." He said Antone had been shot several times inside the house he shared with his son in the 9400-block of Glover Road in Fort Langley. "This comes as a shock to the Kwantlen First Nation as it does to any family or any community group," Thiessen said. "The fact that this is a 71-year-old elder certainly is concerning." He said police are getting full cooperation from Kwantlen Chief Marilyn Gabriel. Antone was a widower with one son, a popular fisherman and an active member of the Kwantlen elder advisory group. Kwantlen council member Tumia Knott said the slaying in the small close-knit community is both shocking and disturbing. There were no community concerns about suspicious activities in the period before the murder, she said. "He was one of our master fishermen here at Kwantlen and shared his catch always with visitors that would come and community and family." Kwantlen is one of the Sto: lo First Nations. Sto: lo Grand Chief Clarence Pennier said everyone in the broader community is also upset about the news. "I knew him and it is shocking news, especially that there has been a homicide," Pennier said. Antone had a conviction for drug trafficking, dating back to April of 1998 in Langley, according to the provincial court database. He got a ninemonth sentence.
5. Aboriginal objections to Labrador hydroelectric project are serious: judge
CANADIAN PRESS, Sue Bailey – March 9, 2011 - ST. JOHN'S, N.L. - Aboriginal objections to the $6.2-billion Lower Churchill hydroelectric project won't be taken lightly, a judge signalled Wednesday as he chastised defence lawyers for not being ready to argue their case. "This is a serious matter," said Justice Richard LeBlanc of the Supreme Court of Newfoundland and Labrador. "Having read what I've read so far, it seems to me there are some significant issues that need to be dealt with." LeBlanc set the case for a three-day hearing starting next Wednesday. He went further, telling court he had considered issuing an interim injunction to stop environmental hearings into the project unless the native challenge could be quickly heard. The 45-day hearings started last Thursday in Labrador. At issue are joint plans by the province and Nova Scotia to harness power from the lower Churchill River with dams and power stations at Muskrat Falls and, later, Gull Island. LeBlanc told lawyers for the province and the environmental assessment panel that the start of the review process — despite aboriginal legal objections — should give "pause for thought." He did not elaborate. LeBlanc is dealing with a challenge mounted by the NunatuKavut Community Council. The group, formerly known as the Labrador Metis Nation, claims it wasn't properly consulted by the province about the development's potential impact. Lawyers for the province and its Crown energy corporation, Nalcor, said they needed more time to respond to the legal challenge filed by NunatuKavut on Feb. 25. NunatuKavut says it represents members descended from the Inuit of southern Labrador. It wants a compensation deal similar to that offered Innu people, and says prior Supreme Court of Canada rulings on aboriginal rights oblige the province to act. LeBlanc told court that NunatuKavut's application raises questions of jurisdiction and the environment panel's terms of reference. In a statement of claim that has not yet been proven in court, NunatuKavut says the province has shirked its legal duty to consult and compensate its members. The group "has stronger and more substantive title and rights to the Upper and Lower Churchill areas than the aboriginal people of the Innu Nation but such title, claim and rights have been deliberately ignored and disregarded by the defendants, particularly Nalcor and the province," says the claim. "Unless the public hearings are delayed and proper and adequate direction given to the defendants ... (NunatuKavut's) aboriginal title and rights will be irreparably harmed and damaged." Statements of defence had not been filed by Wednesday. LeBlanc ordered they be delivered no later than noon Friday. Premier Kathy Dunderdale has indicated the province won't discuss a benefit deal with NunatuKavut unless it has a land claim recognized by Ottawa. The group filed a land claim last spring that covers territory affected by the proposed hydroelectric project. A settlement, if Ottawa agrees to negotiate, is likely years away. The Innu Nation compensation offer includes hunting rights within 34,000 square kilometres of land, plus $2 million a year in compensation for flooding caused by construction of the Churchill Falls hydroelectric project four decades ago. Other payments have not been finalized, and the package must be ratified by the community. Dan Simmons, a lawyer for the environmental panel, said the legal process is being respected and he hopes once all responses are filed that Justice LeBlanc will be satisfied "the rights of all groups have been considered." LeBlanc replied that such conclusions are for the court to decide. Chris Montague, president of NunatuKavut, was encouraged as he spoke to reporters outside court. "Our case is taken very seriously by the honourable court and it's proceeding as it should. I think justice is being done here and our case will be heard fairly. "We feel the province is not living up to its fiduciary obligations with us. It seems that the courts recognize us at a much higher level than what the province does." Ross Wiseman, the province's environment minister, has said the purpose of the hearings is to give all potentially affected groups a chance for input. Wiseman said the injunction bid seems counter to the aboriginal group's goals.
6. First Nations bill steps on chiefs' toes But issue of salaries may be put to rest
WINNIPEG FREE PRESS, Mia Rabson – March 7, 2011 - OTTAWA -- Early last week, a private member's bill requiring First Nations to disclose publicly the salaries paid to chiefs and councillors appeared destined to fail. The bill was introduced last year by Saskatchewan Conservative MP Kelly Block, but the Liberals, NDP and Bloc Québécois all seemed lined up against it. There is a pervasive view from aboriginal groups and opposition MPs that all the bill does is reinstate prejudiced views that all aboriginal leaders are corrupt. However, the bill passed Wednesday 151 to 128, after 15 Liberals voted along with both independents and all the Conservatives present. It indicated the power of freedom of most private member's bills, which allowed more than two dozen Liberals to vote how they wanted rather than how party leadership wanted. The legislation raises interesting and complex issues, not the least of which are the boundaries between First Nations governance and Canadian laws, or assumptions chiefs nationwide are getting rich at the expense of their people and taxpayers. Last fall, shortly after Block introduced her bill, the Canadian Taxpayers Federation released reports listing the salaries of chiefs and councillors from across the country. Some of them were astronomical. Most were not. But it had the affect of convincing chiefs to agree to make their books more public. At a meeting of all Canada's chiefs in December, they voted for a motion calling for First Nation audits, salaries, expenses and honorariums to be made public. There was a lot of resentment over it, but there also seemed to be a general feeling the question of salaries was a distraction to the real issues that aboriginal Canadians face -- such as rampant poverty, unacceptable rates of chronic disease and inexcusable levels of violence, substance abuse and family breakdowns. Block's bill steps on the toes of First Nations leaders who, by treaty, have the right to consultation before Canada imposes laws on them. But if it passes, no matter the fuss it may cause, perhaps it will finally put the salary debate behind everyone so all can focus on what is really important. Nineteen times out of 20? CANADA'S pollsters are on the hot seat. Polls on federal politics all over the map and critics -- including some pollsters themselves -- fear the art of polling is being damaged. How can it be that one poll one week has the Conservatives with a 16-point lead, while another released days later has them sitting up just eight points? How can EKOS one week have the Conservatives up 12.5 points and the next show them having withered to a 5.1-point lead over the Liberals? The reason, some say, is that cellphones and privacy fears have reduced response rates to telephone polls drastically. And online polling has not yet been perfected. The criticisms were apparently loud enough that they compelled the Market Research and Intelligence Association to take the unusual step of buying a full-page ad in The Hill Times, the newspaper marketed directly at people in federal politics. The ad defended polls as accurate and legitimate. What can't be denied, however, is that thanks to cellphones, call display, and people too busy or too wary about personal privacy to answer the questions, the response rate on polls has plummeted. Certain demographics -- often young and highly educated voters -- are seriously underrepresented. Harris-Decima head Allan Gregg was the most outspoken about the problem, and he made a great point. Polls between elections are often overdone, over-reported, and over-analyzed. Their results should be read as trends over time, rather than as one-off indicators that in any given week one party or another has managed to win over thousands more Canadians to its camp. Polls are not meaningless, but neither are they so meaningful that we should take much away from any single one of them. It always used to drive me crazy when politicians sloughed off questions about their polls standings by saying "the only poll that matters is the one on election day," because I knew as well as they did political parties track polls far more intensely than anyone else out there. But at the end of the day, no matter how annoying it may seem, that statement is actually correct.
7. First Nations already have financial transparency
LETTER TO EDITOR - By Chief Lynn Acoose, The Leader-Post March 9, 2011 - I write in response to the March 3 story "First Nations disclosure bill moves ahead" about a private member's bill that will require First Nations councillors and chiefs to disclose annual compensation. As chief of Sakimay First Nations I must provide balanced information from a First Nations' context. Under our transfer agreement with Canada, Sakimay First Nations is required to disclose in its annual audit the honoraria and travel for all elected leadership and to report the results of our audit to the membership. We are no different from other First Nations operating under a standardized transfer agreement. The transfer payments First Nations receive are not "taxpayers' money", but a small share of Canada's wealth that we agreed to share when we entered into treaty with "Her Majesty the Queen, in Right of Canada". In addition to audit reporting, the current chief and council meet quarterly with our citizens to report on portfolio initiatives. A copy of our strategic plan is provided at these meetings so that our citizens have benchmark measurements to evaluate progress. In the face of poverty, underfunding, a capacity deficit and barriers to economic success, our people continue to support a collective vision guided by our responsibility to future generations. The citizens of Sakimay First Nations hold their elected leaders accountable and therefore, the leadership is accountable and transparent. The First Nations Financial Transparency Act will do little to improve the transparency already required in our transfer agreements with Canada. Instead, this Bill would displace the power of First Nation citizens to demand transparency from their own governments. Canadians should also be concerned that the auditor general is unable to audit the expenses of Members of Parliament. I look forward to a private member's bill that will extend financial transparency to our parliamentary counterparts. CHIEF LYNN ACOOSE - Grenfell