A Personal View of the Indian Reserve System

A Personal View of the Indian Reserve System

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John Ahni Schertow
May 17, 2008
 

In this video, you will hear Don Sandberg, an “Aboriginal Policy Fellow” at the Frontier Centre for Public Policy, talk about some of the dysfunctions surrounding aboriginal policy and the Band Council system in Canada.

As noted in an 2006 article he wrote for the Winnipeg Free Press,

[The] cultural imperative — that all citizens should contribute and share — was a normal part of life when I grew up in the northern Manitoba railway community of Gillam. Band councils created by the federal government would eventually replace Indian agents, but there was very little money in the pipes and nobody wanted to be chief.

Ours was Wesley Neepin, employed full-time as a section foreman for CN Rail, whose responsibilities were to hand out rifle ammunition, gasoline for outboard motors, nets for fishing and little else. The squabbles that currently divide many reserves did not exist, as government money did not yet exist. We have now lost our way.

As the money grew, along with the powers of the band council, we adopted the white man’s way of governing and his election practices. We learned that Ottawa did not closely monitor how we spent taxpayer dollars. We paid ourselves handsomely, in some cases more than the prime minister, yet no one seemed to care. Our people got used to seeing their leaders spend lots of money travelling to the city and other far off places each Monday and returning each Friday.

We were told they were working to improve our lives, but the results speak for themselves — housing shortages, unclean water, no jobs, poor health and education services, lousy roads and, most of all, little accountability. Despite our expensive apparatus of tribal council offices, human-rights abuses are rampant. Some chiefs want to open embassies in other countries, more destinations for more great trips.

The list could go on. For instance, there are many examples where dissenting voices are isolated and even banished and stripped of their ‘aboriginal status–‘ Don himself is one such example. There are even more stories where Elders, Women, and Men are physically threatened for ‘knowing something they shouldn’t. “If you don’t shut your mouth, things are gonna happen,” they’re told.

So what can be done to address these and the many other problems that exist on reserve?

Don’s position is that Canada needs to legislate something like the First Nations Governance Act (FNGA) — because it would would enforce Canada’s ‘human rights standard’ on reserve, and make Band Councils and Chiefs accountable for their actions.

For Your Consideration

While he’s right that accountability is crucial for addressing the problems that exist, I must add that the FNGA is neither a reasonable nor acceptable way to help foster it. that’s because the Act, which is by all intents a modernized version of the 1969 White Paper, (also see:Putting new governance act into context (doc)) would do alot more than make leadership accountable.

It would also change the status of Band Councils and First Nations to Corporations; and it would cancel all of Canada’s fiduciary obligations (they currently owe hundreds of billions); and finally it would extinguish indigenous treaty and land rights.

In other words, if the FNGA was implemented then in one fell swoop Canada would achieve what they have been otherwise pushing forward, very very patiently, over the last two hundred years… Assimilation into Canada.

That is why the FNGA was so widely opposed… although there is some truth to what Don says in his talk, about how Band Councils “like it the way it is.” Let’s be honest now, it’s true. But the opposition was moreso because of the negative aspects of the FNGA.

There are a couple of other points Don brings up which should also be expanded on, for those who’ve never heard about any of this before — but at this point I’m going to leave it to you. If you have any questions though, please feel free to leave a comment below.

A Personal View of the Indian Reserve System

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