Members of the Kainai First Nation in southern Alberta, and especially the Kainai First Nation Elders Association, are tired of having an irresponsible Band Council.
They want leadership that can be held accountable for its actions, and who treats the community with respect. Right now the Chief and Council handles them as if they’re low-level employees in the service industry… people who are never informed about anything, who aren’t allowed to participate in decisions that effect them, and who are entitled to little more than the right to hand over their blind allegiance.
“During meetings of the Kainai First Nation Elders Association in Standoff, Alberta, members have been openly speaking about introducing rules to penalize leaders who do not keep their electoral promises. Indeed, on[e] member half-jokingly referred to establishing impeachment proceedings,” writes Joseph Quesnel, a Policy Analyst with the Frontier Centre for Public Policy.
“Other members spoke about introducing innovative ideas such as the establishment of a ‘senate’-type body to act as a check on chief and council. The shape of the ‘senate wasn’t discussed, other than the fact that it would represent the community and ensure that band government is not held in secret’,” says Quesnel.
Whatever form it takes, the First Nations will be heading to the polls today with the hope of establishing a body that can bring accountability and transparency to the Band Government.
“The Kainai Nation is far from the only one involved in such efforts. “Community associations and elders associations from First Nations across the Prairies are trying to create structures that prevent and curb the concentration of power within chief and council,” says Quesnel. “Many in the community refer to older indigenous forms of governance for inspiration and some look to modern examples of accountability structures.”
Establishing these types of structures are easy enough, all you really need is people – but a major roadblock lies in the fact that the Canadian government almost never recognizes them. The same goes for any on-reserve solution, as Peguis First Nation has come to realize.
Quesnel suggests that reason for this is because the government prefers to take sides “with the chief and council,” who, of course, “fall under the Indian Act.”
This is true for the most part, however, it may be more accurate to say that it’s because they’re taking sides with their own policy interests. After all, the only band councils that Canada ever really backs, are the ones who “play nice.”
Just look at the Barriere Lake Algonquins.
Last summer their legally-elected Chief and Council was deposed by the Canadian government.
It is widely felt that Canada wanted to get rid of them because they were demanding that Canada, along with the Province of Quebec, honor a set of agreements that would give Barriere Lake a decisive role in the management of part of their traditional territory, as well as a share in resource-revenues from development projects on their land.
Since band council was thrown out, the People of Barriere lake have organized several peaceful protests, at least two of which have been violently repressed by police.
The policy interest I speak of — is about power. Canada’s ability to assert it over every fundamental aspect of indigenous people, and just as much, their inverted need to make sure indigenous people have none of their own. At least, none that exceeds the ability to decide when the school day begins.
The same can be said about sovereignty and land rights, but that’s another story for another day.
For now let’s just remember that, no matter how powerful or relevant the government of Canada thinks it is, the fact remains that it is neither. Not when it comes to internal matters like governance.
Just think of the Two Row Wampum. Canada may not respect it, but that doesn’t mean we must do the same. Unfortunately, that pretty much guarantees some form of confrontation, but I think we can all agree that working through that is far better than allowing things to continue as they have in the past.
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