Think tank rates Saskatchewan & Manitoba First Nations on governance

by Lloyd Dolha

A Winnipeg-based think tank has released an aboriginal governance index evaluating 112 First Nations communities in Manitoba and Saskatchewan.

The Frontier Centre for Public Policy released its 2nd annual Aboriginal Governance Index, based on the evaluation of six broad areas of good governance

Don Sandburg, the Centre’s Aboriginal Policy Fellow, said the index is designed to provide Manitoba and Saskatchewan First Nations with a convenient benchmark through which individual bands can measure their progress in achieving responsible self-government.

The Frontier Centre, an independent research organization, conducted a total of 1,780 surveys – 789 in Manitoba and 991 in Saskatchewan – were used to rate the First Nations .

Saskatchewan First Nations dominated 11 of the 12 top spots on the 2007 aboriginal governance index compiled by the centre. This year 61 First Nations in Saskatchewan participated in the index as well as 51 communities from Manitoba.

Only five First Nations declined to participate in the index – Wood Mountain, Whitecap Dakota and Big River in Saskatchewan and Roseau River and St. Theresa Point in Manitoba.

Participants were asked a series of questions in the areas of elections, administration human rights transparency, services and the economy.

In general, First Nations with good government tended to have more healthy economic development, the study found. It also determined that there are dysfunctional band councils on far too many reserves.

The report also spoke of the “veil of secrecy” that permeates the activities of many band councils.

Sandberg, who travelled to dozens of reserves to collect the data, said the biggest problem they faced was the lack of information on finances for the people in the communities.

“They [band members] did not know exactly where the band’s finances were.” There were also many complaints about unfair elections, he said.

The report said Indian and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) has intervened in the governance and finances of many First Nations across Canada after they get into difficulty, but that is particularly true in Saskatchewan and Manitoba. According to INAC, in 2006, 12 Saskatchewan reserves were under third-party management.

Ranked on the Frontier Centre’s good governance scale of 100, no band got 100 per cent. The best-run First Nation, according to the survey, was the Ahtakhoop First Nation, located about 150 kilometres north of Saskatoon, near Shell Lake, was ranked number one with a score of 78 per cent. Ten other Saskatchewan First Nations with rated with superior systems of governance, with only one First Nation from Manitoba, Rolling River, in that category.

The worst-ranked reserve was Grand Rapids First Nation, located about 430 kilometres northwest of Winnipeg, with a score of 31 per cent. Seven other Manitoba First Nations were ranked lowest in the index and three others from Saskatchewan. The balance of the other 90 First Nations ranked somewhere in the middle.

First Nations University of Canada assistant professor Bob Kayseas said some of the blame for poor governance rests with INAC. Kayseas said INAC primarily asked chiefs and council to be accountable to them first before the band membership.

He said First Nations need to create a new kind of relationship with both the federal government and their community members to be successful in the future.