Consensus absent when it comes to Aboriginal governance

How should Aboriginal government work in Canada? It’s not exactly an easy conversation.


CP/Fred Chartrand

“This is a different from of government than what is traditional Canadian government. We have to understand it better. It’s not like we’ve had 100 years of accepting this. It’s only been in the last 30 years that this work has gone on in that direction, so Canadians have to catch up to it.”—NDP MP Dennis Bevington, who represents the Northwest Territories

Parliamentarians on the Aboriginal affairs committee have waded into a long-simmering debate about how Aboriginal government should work in Canada. It’s not exactly an easy conversation.

Whenever MPs talk about the way First Nations run their affairs, several sources of tension are bound to emerge. When the House aboriginal affairs committee first took a look at Bill C-27, the First Nations Financial Transparency Act, the usual controversial questions arose immediately.

Among the toughest is how to legislate transparency among Aboriginal bands across the country? Should the federal government make uniform demands of all bands? Or should the communities be free to create their own frameworks for governance? Where do the rest of Canadians fit into the conversation?

Every past bid to come to a conclusion on all of these issues has failed to arrive at anything approaching a consensus. Among the witnesses at the committee over the past two weeks were First Nations leaders who argued for autonomy from various angles.

“As far as the chief and council salaries, we actually have a chief and council compensation commission in our community that’s made up of our membership. They set our salaries. We don’t set our salaries,” said Darcy Bear, the Chief of the Whitecap Dakota First Nation.

“Legislatively, we are governed by a general assembly. Every adult member of the first nation is a member of the legislature,” said Chief Roland Twinn of the Sawridge First Nation.

Clarence Paupanekis, a councillor from the Norway House Cree Nation, said: “Our practice in Norway House Cree Nation is to hold a community meeting to share our audited financial statements and explain in simple terms what the financial statements read.”

Their points are aren’t exactly parallel. They refer variously to transparency, specifically, and governance more generally.

But what they have in common is a claim from each First Nation about how it reaches similar ends— transparency and good governance—using different means. On the other hand, a Hansard’s worth of conversation argues about those bands that are neither transparent nor governed effectively. Indeed, witnesses to the committee disagree even about basic statistics involving how much corruption and incompetence exists among aboriginal nations in Canada.

But one thing is certain: There are hundreds of bands in each province and territory, and they’re not strictly governed—nor do many wish to be governed—according to some financial management or governance framework created by the Government of Canada.

Not much is agree upon, but one thing is certain: hundreds of bands, scattered across each province and territory, are not strictly governed—under any federal financial management or governance framework. Many don’t want that oversight.

Below, to illustrate the sheer volume of aboriginal government in Canada, is a map of every aboriginal community.

Aboriginal communities across Canada

GREEN: Inuit; BLUE: First Nations; RED: Métis

What’s this map all about?

This map comprises every aboriginal community in Canada, and was compiled by the Aboriginal Canada Portal. It’s available for download, so you can grab it yourself and do what you please with the data.

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Consensus absent when it comes to Aboriginal governance

  1. ‘There are hundreds of bands in each province and territory, and they’re
    not strictly governed—nor do many wish to be governed—according to some
    financial management or governance framework created by the Government
    of Canada.’

    Of course not. Separate nations prefer separate arrangements.

      • True….but you’ll notice no one is discussing it. On here or in Parliament.

        I suggested years ago that they each become separate municipalities, which would give them self-governance and a way to get ahead, but…..

          • Okay, I’m game. LOL

            As far as I recall there are about 2500 communities that could qualifiy as ‘First Nations’.

            Canada….with 2500 other separate ‘First Nations’ within it….is a Swiss Cheese. Very hard to manage or get anything done….and in an emergency….well, probably not doable.

            And not all ‘First Nations’ are equal….some could easily be independent….others are isolated bushland in the north.

            Our smallest province has about 146K in population….so being a province wouldn’t help either.

            I’d like to see them…the ‘reserves’….become municipalities….we could accomodate 2500 new munis with no problem. But they’d be ‘special’ munis….former reserves….with any form of govt they chose. Private property if they chose. Inviting in ‘outsiders’ with businesses etc if they chose. Dumping that wretched ‘Indian Act’…..and doing what’s right for themselves. A whole new way to live.

          • Thanks for elaborating. Let’s put this to other readers…

          • (The number of communities is closer to 600).

            The problem with the municipality suggestion is that it:

            a) does not recognize Indigenous sovereignty, (which leads to)
            b) it fails to address historical and contemporary processes of settler colonialism rooted in the dispossession of land – the root cause of socio-economic inequalities and social suffering.

            Ultimately, the municipality suggestion is an entrenchment of colonialism.

          • Doesn’t have to be….depends on how it’s done. They need special standing….not reserves, not towns…but a different level of govt so they can build and grow.

            Don’t tell me what won’t work….do you have a better solution?

          • “Doesn’t have to be”… What do you mean? Municipalities does not equal sovereignty.

            And as for a better solution:

            Significantly increase land base, provide back-rent compensation/restitution for centuries of dispossession, quit poisoning environments, and with no condition of recognizing Crown sovereignty.

          • We can call a new arrangement anything we jolly well want to….and endow it with any powers we want to.

            I dont think you have any idea of how much land they already have….so it doesnt need to be increased….it needs to be more productive.

            FN would prefer to keep the arrangement with the Queen as far as I know….thats who they made the deal with in the first place.

  2. So many bands still living like it is 500 years ago……..

    Fighting the native patriarchy

    Published: Wednesday, January 11, 2006

    Leona Freed’s ex-husband physically abused her. But she had three children and stayed with him for about five years before walking out. For many women, finally leaving the abuse marks a new beginning: Assets in family law court are split 50-50, and a judge makes the call on support issues. That wasn’t the case for Freed; leaving her ex only sparked bigger problems. Family law didn’t apply in Freed’s case, and still doesn’t for many other women like her, because of where the abuse took place — on a native reserve called Hollow Water, a couple of hours north of Winnipeg.

    Provincial and territorial family laws regarding matrimonial property rights don’t hold on native reserves. When the band forbade Freed from taking her children with her when she left (her husband’s mother was a band councillor), Freed had to work her way through the courts off-reserve for nine months to win her kids back. The experience heightened her native activism — though not the sort you’re likely to see on the evening news.
    That’s because Freed isn’t fighting for more money for natives, but rather for the basic Freedoms the rest of Canadians take for granted: property rights, accountable governance and women’s equality.

    When she’s not at her day job as an aide in a Portage la Prairie, Man., seniors’ home, Freed is working for the First Nations Accountability Coalition of Manitoba, which she started out of her home in 1995, and now has 5,000 native and Metis members across Canada. But Freed is ready to give up. The system, she senses, favours those Indian groups that play by Ottawa’s rules — selling out natives as second-class citizens, in exchange for billions in federal handouts.

    Other native groups rely on taxpayer money to fund their lobbying efforts. But all of Freed’s presentations, travel, lobbying and reports are done without government help. (Freed admits she once accepted a $65,000 grant from the Ministry of Indian Affairs to fund a campaign against fraud in band council elections, but is ashamed of it, and says she would never do it again.)

    The Canadian Taxpayers Federation reports that funding for native programs has doubled in just over a decade, from $3.3-billion to $6.6-billion in 2002 — with most of the money going to bands. In the wake of the November public-relations fiasco caused by the water crisis at Ontario’s Kashechewan reserve, and with an election in the offing, the federal Liberals rushed through yet more native funding promises.

    But while aboriginal groups rake it in, the situation for the average native remains bleak, especially for women. Reserves often operate on a patriarchal system. Without equal rights, women become trapped in miserable marriages, knowing that leaving their husbands typically means cutting off their financial support. Leaving the reserve means abandoning all their property and, frequently, their children.


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