Accountability and Band Finances

There used to be a time in this country when we as Native people were invisible. No one cared what we did or what happened to us and there certainly wasn’t anyone who cared about our day to day lives. We were forgotten people and as Canada the nation marched forward into global esteem, we were shunted into the background and our stories and realities tucked away in shadow. But those days are gone and Native people have become more of a part of Canadian consciousness than ever.

That’s either good or bad. It’s good when you consider that the realities of our lives, the hardships we continue to struggle with and the issues that confront us are realized by a bigger part of the population. It’s good when our neighbors come to understand the nature of our discontent and the truth of our troubled relationship with Canada. But it’s bad when we choose to embarrass ourselves by our actions.

Lately a citizen’s group has launched a website aimed at scrutinizing First Nations band finances. The site is called and it follows reams of documents from the Canadian Taxpayers Federation that question the rate of pay for chiefs and councils. The group is concerned with what they perceive as flagrant abuse of fiscal funding and a pay scale that seems outlandish and irresponsible.

The Canadian Tax Foundation (CTF) wants band finances to be made public. Why not? These days, self-government has ceased to be a principle and has become a reality for many First Nations. Transparency is a logical idea. Why not show Canadians how well we can manage our own affairs? The whole premise of self-government is built on First Nations as capable, proficient governments who are entirely able to confront and control their individual destinies. The CTF proposes an open book that lets Canadians see responsible First Nations Governments.

It’s not just outsiders who are concerned. Many within reserve communities want to know where and how First Nations fiscal money is spent. There are First Nations activists who are demanding that their leadership be transparent; to allow all band members to see the books, know the financial goings-on of their own governments. This is a reasonable request. Band populations deserve to know how their lives are being managed and to deprive them creates hierarchy, an elite that was never part of our cultures.

The Peguis Band in Manitoba is a prime example. In 2007 to 2008 the chief made $221,642 in tax free salary. The following fiscal year he made $174, 230. Those amounts are equal to $383,579 and $295,124 in taxable income – which is more than the Prime Minister makes. On top of that are the expense accounts that allow leaders to travel globally for conferences and events that may or may not affect their dealings at home. Once all is said and done there’s an awful lot of money aimed at improving the collective lives of First Nations people that’s being eaten up by high paid and self-righteous leadership.

There was a time in our traditional lives when our leaders weren’t paid. Leaders were chosen for leading principled lives. They were chosen by virtue of their dignity, of selflessness, of a concern for the collective wellbeing of the people, spirituality, empathy, compassion and a quality of courage that allowed them to put the needs of the community ahead of their own. That courage is what made them leaders and it never included greed, self-righteousness or self-aggrandizing behaviors. Sadly, nowadays, too many chiefs and councilors seem to think it’s their due as elected leaders to take home enormous amounts.

It’s angering. The majority of their people will never see such money in their entire lives. The new truck, the new house, the boat and motor, the vacations, and the high priced meals in high priced restaurants will never be part of their reality. Our leadership has no need for huge payouts while their people struggle to get by. And it’s especially angering when they take the money and still talk about honoring our traditions.

So why not open the books on band management? Why not allow Canadians and their own people to see how much they are paid, how much they ring up on expenses, and how the fiscal dollars directed toward the community is divided and spent? Honesty and accountability are traditional principles after all and the notion of self-government implies that a people are mature enough to govern openly.

There’s no colonialism inherent in accountability. There’s no racism in asking a government to be forthright in its dealings and there is certainly no besmirching of a peoples’ integrity by asking their leadership for honesty.