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SSNS Home > Check This First > News > Aboriginal News > Governance Issues

Aboriginal News:
1. Governance Issues


The Indian Act has long governed the affairs of Aboriginal people who come under its jurisdiction, but critics have seen it as increasingly problematic over the years. Some have argued that it should be abolished, because it promotes a system of Aboriginal apartheid that has been rejected elsewhere in the world. Others have argued that it needs to be retained to guarantees rights for Aboriginal People that were set down in the original Treaties, or replaced by a new Act that ensures those rights continue. The matter is not resolved, but it is always involved at some level in any news story related to Aboriginal issues. People need to be informed about governance and how it complicates the lives of Aboriginal people.

  • Land Claims relate to land that was promised to Aboriginal people at treaty but not delivered at the time, hunting land that was ceded at time of treaty, or land that is still part of current treaty negotiations.

    • Traditional Lands is a term describing Crown land that was ceded at time of treaty, but continued in use as the traditional hunting grounds of neighbouring Aboriginal reserves. In recent years, these reserves have claimed the right to determine how this Crown land is developed (or not). Eastern Manitoba is presently undeveloped. Not only is it lacking an all weather road to the main service centres of the South, but It doesn’t even have one connecting its own communities, most of which are economically depressed Aboriginal reserves with high unemployment and related social issues. However, that could change, if these communities were able to gain control of the Crown land surrounding their reserves by arguing the right of traditional lands, The following articles highlight some of the issues involved and raise many questions.

      • Articles:
        • 25 March 2007: “Province might cede East Side”
        • 22 November 2008: “Activists hail park logging ban” Doer government’s decision came out of the blue”
        • 3 December 2008: “Park decision bashed”
        • 8 December 2008: “Bands get east-side planning authority: Bill paves way for world heritage site”
        • 1 May 2009: “All-weather road set for east side of lake”
        • 9 June 2009: "First Nations threaten to snub bill: Unhappy with handling of act"
  • Band Politics are directly influenced by the Indian Act. Increasingly, questions are being raised about the structure and accountability of the present system. Does it adequately serve the needs of band members? Or is there need for reform?


Land Claims - Traditional Lands:

25 March 2007: “Province might cede East Side” [Winnipeg Free Press, B3]

Gerald Flood wrote this article about the Wabanong Nakaygum Okimawin (East Side of the Lake Governance), which is a “transfer agreement” between the Government of Manitoba and the 16 First Nations on the east side of Lake Winnipeg. The agreement is a “draft protocol” that will provide grants of $2.5 million over five years, so that each community can identify its “traditional” territories for survey and mapping. Flood noted that these territories lie “within the 80,000-square-kilometre expanse of the East Side, an area larger than New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island combined.”

Among the things that each of the sixteen First Nations will do are: “record areas of sacred and cultural significance … determine areas designated for protection and areas open to resource development … designate areas of ecological, cultural or historical significance to ensure their recognition and preservation … designate areas of land for purposes of regulating use through zoning or other methods consistent with traditional ecological knowledge and provincial legislation.”

The reason for this action, in Flood’s view, was to lay the groundwork for the sixteen communities to “lay claim to the ‘areas” and “eventually control them as part of their ‘traditional territories.” Since the east side communities had been there a long time, Flood predicted that the entire region would be claimed as somebody’s traditional territory, and that it would lead to “the effective surrender of control of Crown land on the East Side” to the 16 communities located there.

This all started with a promise from the Doer Government seven years ago, but it hasn’t gone beyond a draft protocol, because it is rather difficult to “figure out how to effectively surrender control of lands now held in common by all Manitobans to 16 scattered and isolated communities without upsetting a lot [of] apple carts and potentially angering a lot of people who might not agree that doing so is the right thing to do.” Flood said that this is the reason why the writing of the draft “has been shrouded in secrecy all these many years.” But it was still going on, and he had read “the most recent admitted draft, entitled, Draft protocol #22”, the front cover of which stated “not to be distributed to the general public.”

Draft #22 indicated that no new development of any kind could proceed without “the consent of affected First Nations” or First Nations that could be affected. This harkened back to the Supreme Court ruling that “governments must hold ‘meaningful’ consultations with First Nations affected by new developments,” but, in Flood’s view, the Draft had gone far beyond the intent of that ruling. In effect, it meant that there would have to be agreement and “consent” from all “affected” First Nations before licenses could be obtained from the government “for such operations as forestry, mining, tourism, recreation, camps, lodges, cottages, transportation, Hydro lines or trap lines.” Even the province had to have the consent of the First Nations before it could do anything on provincial Crown land.

What about existing economic development? Flood noted that operations would be allowed to continue without having to get “consent,” but if they made any changes, it would require negotiations and a new agreement. If that failed, the case could be taken before a panel, consisting of a representative from the affected community/communities, a representative from the government, and a representative acceptable to both the affected community/communities and the government. If the operation was turned down, developers had no other recourse. The communities, on the other hand, did. If the decision was in favour of the operation, the community/communities could appeal to any interested agency, like the Clean Environment Commission, or to the courts. Moreover, if the government ruled against the community/communities, it had to then “hold separate consultations to determine whether the community’s treaty rights might be affected.” Flood underscored this point by saying that “traditional lands” included “rights or interests involving minerals, watercourses, air, and natural resources including plants and animals.” The draft protocol also stated that even if a community was not directly affected by proposed development, it could still object on the grounds that it had been affected indirectly. Flood ended his summary of the draft protocol by citing a clause that declared land use agreements could “‘inform other governments and people other than First Nations’ citizens about how to act with respect to the land.’”

Flood concluded that the process seemed “wildly lopsided,” one that “could tie any proposal in red tape for as long as the rivers run.” He agreed that First Nations people on the East Side needed to be consulted about development and benefit from it, but the development protocol represented a great deal of uncertainty for developers. What was certain, however, was “that a secret process that appears destined to cede control over development on the vast East Side [was] offensive to all Manitobans who own[ed] it in common.” Flood also went on to say that the government was “seeking to veil its intentions and manipulate the message” and a confidential cabinet document signed by Environment Minister Stan Struthers indicated that “direct government communication of these issues will be with the with East Side residents while it will be up to the media to ensure that all other Manitobans are made aware of the ‘significance of the accord.’”

Discussion: Was this article informative? From what perspective was Flood writing? Did he back his perspective with a reasoned argument? Did he display bias or prejudice in presenting that argument?

A number of questions naturally arise from this article. Crown Land is owned collectively by Canadians at present, but Flood felt that effective control of those lands in Eastern Manitoba was about to be transferred to the sixteen communities in the region. Is this a valid concern? If so, why might Manitobans in other parts of the province object? Could this explain the alleged government secrecy connected with the proceedings? Flood also suggested that the proposed changes would hamper development by increasing bureaucracy and red tape. Does he have a point here? Would investors be scared off, as they allegedly were by political interference over the proposed mining development near Cross Lake? Could this set back economic development in Eastern Manitoba?   

On the other hand, could the Wabanong Nakaygum Okimawin represent a positive opportunity for the sixteen aboriginal communities of the East Side? What are the challenges? What could be the positive outcomes?

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22 November 2008: “Activists hail park logging ban” Doer government’s decision came out of the blue” [Winnipeg Free Press, A3]

Logging is an economic activity on the East Side with potential for growth, but since it occurs on Crown land, it is restricted by federal and provincial law. For those concerned about the implications of such restrictions on future logging development, especially as Aboriginal communities attempt to improve their economic viability, it is important to keep abreast of what is happening to the logging industry on Crown land elsewhere in the province. In a November article, Bruce Owen called attention to a government announcement that it was banning logging operations in 79 of Manitoba’s 80 parks, effective April 1, 2009. Environmentalists, who had been trying to stop logging in parks for years, were surprised, but elated by the news. Ron Thiessen, Manitoba director of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society was quoted, saying, “Our parks are spectacular areas. They are for recreation, education and for future generations to enjoy and of course, to protect our wilderness and wildlife.” Eric Reder, another activist, was equally delighted at the news, and said that the next step was the banning of mining as well.

The government had been negotiating with Tolko Industries Ltd. and Tembec Inc. for some time, but “no one outside of those involved knew talks had progressed so far.” These companies will shut down operations in the Whiteshell, Nopiming, Clearwater, and Grass River Parks by the end of March, but they will continue to “cut timber on Crown land in other areas of the province.”

Only Duck Mountain Provincial Park was unaffected by the ban. Logging would continue, because of “long-standing agreements with loggers, including Louisiana Pacific, to operate in the park.” Owen added that “Struthers also said because so many people depend on the area’s forest industry for work, a ban is not economical.”

Owen shed little light on the rationale of the government in taking this action, but did include the following quote from Premier Doer, “We actually believe that provincial parks are parks. A park is a park is a park. You should be able to have a picnic in a park without a tree falling down.”

According to Conservation Minister Stan Struthers, the ban was “only the first step the province is taking to protect its boreal forest from development.” As reported by Owen, Struthers may be following the lead of Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty, who had said that he will “protect 50 percent of his provinces forests, representing the single largest conservation commitment in Canadian history.”

Vice-president Dennis Rounsville said Tembec was “a little taken aback” when the government approached it regarding the ban. “Access to the forest is the life-blood for a mill such as our Pine Falls newsprint mill,” he said, “You can’t run a mill without trees … but when the government wants to go in a direction, it’s hard to stop them.” His company, which employs 200 people, will have to move out of the Whiteshell and Nopiming provincial parks and go further south to get trees, a change that will increase the trucking costs to get the spruce logs to the mill. However, according to Owen, “Tembec should not have a drop in production or job losses.”

Dave Knight of Tolko, which employs more than 500 people, said that the move out of Grass River and Clearwater Provincial Parks will add “two extra hours to truck a load of timber to its mill in The Pas, extra costs the company is willing to accept.”

According to the Premier, the province would provide a “one-time amount of $3.2 million so that neither company will see a drop in production or the prospect of job losses.”

Owen’s article was accompanied by three pictures, one of a group of environmentalists with glasses raised in a victory toast, another of clear cutting presumably in one of the affected parks, and a map of Manitoba showing the locations of the parks.

Discussion: Owen’s article was essentially a report on what the government had done, the reaction to it from environmental activists, and the insignificant impact it would have on two Manitoba logging companies. Except for a little inconvenience, it will be business as usual. There was no analysis whatsoever on a government decision that anywhere else would have economic consequences. The glib rationale for the ban provided by the Premier wasn’t even questioned. Needless to say, this article raises a number of questions.

What kind of long standing agreement excluded Louisiana Pacific from the logging ban?

Why was the economic welfare of the people involved in Duck Mountain logging of greater significance to the government than that of the people at Pine Falls, Wabowden, or The Pas?

How can a government ban have no appreciable impact on either company? Owen actually quoted the Premier as saying, “They [the logging companies] are facing difficult times … Our philosophy was in the long run and short run to make sure this was revenue-neutral.” Revenue neutral for whom, we might ask?

What impact will this decision have on the East side of Manitoba, where 16 bands have been promised a seat at the table to negotiate the future of the region. With limited economic options open to them, they could decide they want logging in the boreal forest to stimulate economic growth. What would the government’s reaction to this proposal be? How might the concept of traditional lands be invoked to assist the local communities in their cause?

One of the pictures accompanying the article showed a group of smiling environmental activists proposing a victory toast in celebration of the ban. Although they were not directly involved, they had worked to bring a ban about for years. Do they have a legitimate cause?

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3 December 2008: “Park decision bashed” [Winnipeg Free Press, A12] Quoted in full with permission of the writer.

Paul Duncan, who lives at Falcon Lake in the Whiteshell Provincial Park, read Owen’s article and was fired up enough to write a rebuttal. Here is his letter in full.

“Until now, Manitoba Conservation has managed the forest of the Whiteshell Provincial Park and has operators remove the mature trees in areas that were ready for harvest with supervised reforestation programs at these sites. Now that this program has been discontinued, the mature forests will be subject to natural reforestation which is wildfires and large blow-downs such as what we witnessed at Betula and Big Whiteshell lakes two years ago, with mass destruction that will be devastating to the 3,000 cottagers, commercial operators, visitors and many families who make the Whiteshell Park their home.

“When this occurs, and it will, it will take many years for areas to recover from this devastation and it is sad that a small, vocal group can get our government to make such a ludicrous decision that will affect the people of Manitoba in such a negative way.”

Discussion: It is never wise to read just one point of view on a subject. Owen included a picture of clear cutting with his article, but only mentioned a ban on “logging operations” within the text. Whether wittingly or not, by being vague on what the ban included, he led readers to think only clear cutting was involved. Since clear cutting is widely disapproved, this tends to bias the reader in favour of the government position. Duncan, on the other hand, provided an incisive critique of the government’s ban by stating in concrete terms what else it meant to the people affected. He elaborated in a telephone conversation on 3 January 2009. As a result of the ban, a supervised program in the Whiteshell for local operators to remove mature trees from the forest has been discontinued. This program prevented the accumulation of deadwood that increases the risk of devastating forest fires within the park. Even though the ban directly affected them, the operators were as surprised by it as everyone else. They were never consulted. This new information makes Duncan’s letter a valuable contribution to the discussion and raises some important new questions.

Since the programme Paul Duncan mentioned is sustainable forest management, as described by the United Nation, why did the Doer government ban it? What was the rationale behind its all-or-nothing approach?

Why did the government privilege the opinions of absentee, urban-based individuals who make their living as activists when it decided on the ban?

Why were the small operators never consulted, when their livelihoods were directly affected by those opinions and the government action supporting them?

Duncan pointed out that clear cutting did occur but away from cottage areas, so there was no danger of a tree falling down while someone was having a picnic, as the Premier suggested. What exactly is so bad about clear cutting anyway, when trees are a renewable resource that can be restored through reforestation?

More and more of Manitoba’s forests are being converted into parks, evidently for the recreational enjoyment of urbanites like Ron Thiessen or Eric Reder, and to preserve the natural environment. What about the people who actually make their living from the forest? Who provide the raw materials for many of the comforts that urban society takes for granted?

With the foregoing in mind, how can the concept of Traditional Land be a valuable negotiating strategy for isolated and vulnerable Aboriginal communities on the East Side as they battle arbitrary and irrational government decisions that affect their economic futures?

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8 December 2008: “Bands get east-side planning authority: Bill paves way for world heritage site” [Winnipeg Free Press, A6]

Journalist Mary Agnes Welch reported that the Doer government had introduced legislation that paved the way for “a world heritage site on the east side of Lake Winnipeg” and effectively banned “the construction of a power line through the boreal forest.” The bill would give the sixteen bands of eastern Manitoba “unprecedented power to plan and manage their traditional lands that often extend thousands of square kilometres beyond their small reserves.” It would mean that nothing could be planned on a band’s traditional lands “without the signature of the province and the band’s chief.”

Conservation Minister Stan Struthers said that it was “all about a planning process that gives First Nations a seat at the table” when in the past “decisions were made far away behind closed doors.”

Welch reported that all the bands were now working on plans, “which will have the force of law and could shape development of the untouched forest for generations.” However, this process could take years, because, except for Poplar River, the other bands had barely begun. In the meantime, “a vast swath of boreal forest the size of Belgium could get interim protection from development like logging, mining and power lines.” This means that BiPole III, the transmission line proposed for the east side, will be effectively outlawed because three bands – Little Grand Rapids, Pauingassi and Poplar River – oppose it. In any case, the Doer government had decided that BiPole would not go down the east side because it was “at odds with an application to the United Nations for world heritage status for the boreal forest.”

However, Welch pointed out that the bill “contains a failsafe for use in extreme circumstances,” meaning that “Cabinet can override the development plans if a project is in the public interest.” This would give the provincial government “some latitude to maintain ultimate control over Crown land.”

The Conservative leader Hugh McFadyen supported the UNESCO designation, but he felt a power line should go down the east side of the province because it is “cheaper to build, faster to build and could provide some much-needed jobs and economic development for impoverished, remote reserves.”

Discussion: In the two years since Flood wrote his article, had there been any apparent change in the course of the government as he saw it?

Had the Doer government given effective control of Crown land in Eastern Manitoba to the aboriginal communities claiming it as traditional land? What are the pros and cons of such a step?

Flood emphasised the secrecy associated with government plans for jurisdiction on the east side of the province. Would he see irony in Struthers’ suggestion that too many decisions in the past had occurred behind closed doors?

Some of the bands on the east side were in favour of BiPole III in the past. If they have now been guaranteed rights regarding development in their traditional lands, what is to prevent them from invoking the principle of traditional land to approve a transmission line? Welch did not address this issue.

Although Welch’s article claimed that the bands opposing BiPole III were in favour of all-weather road links to Winnipeg, how likely is a road to be built when (a) there is no immediate incentive like the building of a power line, (2) proposals for a road up the east side date back at least as far as the 1920s, and (3) there is currently a world economic crisis?

Increasing the stake holders invariably slows decision making. In view the number of decision makers involved now, how likely is it that economic development will occur on the East Side any time soon? Should East Side residents be concerned?  On the other hand, by conceding the principal of traditional land, has the government given the East Side greater control over their economic destiny?

If this new legislation establishes a precedent, could other jurisdictions of the province ask for similar control over development in their regions? Would this give local regions greater autonomy and promote democratic involvement? Or, would it make decision making more difficult.

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1 May 2009: “All-weather road set for east side of lake” [Winnipeg Free Press, A5]

According to journalist Bruce Owen, the road is finally in the works. The province and the First Nations communities in the region announced plans on April 30 to build “an all-weather road system through a wilderness area the size of England on the east side of Lake Winnipeg.” Owen said the people have been waiting “more than a decade for a more reliable and economical way to travel other than winter roads and aircraft.” (Not so! It’s been much longer than that. In fact, the first lobby for an all-weather road dates back to the 1920s).

So when will construction begin? According to the plan, it “will start [in 2009] with the upgrade of Rice River Road from Hollow Water to Bloodvein about 90 kilometres to the north.” The next step is to extend the road to Berens River by 2013. After that, the Manitoba Floodway Authority (MFA), which will be responsible for construction, has to work out agreements with First Nations communities to move the road further north. According to Chief Bailey Colon of Oxford House, “There’s no reason it can’t be done.”

Although there is no indication as yet that the federal government will get involved, the provincial government has “budgeted $27 million towards the early stages of the project and expects that costs will escalate as the road pushes through swampy terrain and bridges have to be built over rivers.” However, in a bid to justify the cost, both Infrastructure Minister Ron Lemieux and Culture, Heritage and Tourism Minister Eric Robinson said that the road system would open the area to “aboriginal-led development” such as “mining and tourism.” Also, fuel and groceries are expensive because the extensive winter road system is “getting more expensive and less dependable with climate change and shorter winters.” The alternative is more expensive air freighting when the roads fail.

The last time roads on the east side were in the news was during the controversy over the location of BiPole III, the proposed new Hydro transmission line from the North. Owen noted that “The Doer government has picked the more costly option to build the massive line called BiPole III down the west side of the province in a bid to preserve the boreal forest [on the east side] as a United Nations world heritage site.” Now critics ask, “if the province is allowing roads to be built, why doesn’t it allow a new hydro-electric transmission line [to] be built down the east side of the lake?“ In an attempt to answer this criticism, Robinson, the area’s MLA, said that “a hydro line does not provide any permanent benefit to the people in the area, including electricity, while a road allows them easier access to go shopping or make doctor’s appointments.”

Owen concluded his article by reminding readers that “late last year the province introduced legislation giving the region’s bands unprecedented power to plan and manage their traditional land.” He added, somewhat tentatively, that “it would specify what kind of development – roads, logging, mining, lodges – can go on what land and what areas should remain untouched.”

Discussion: So, what did you think of this news article? The title was full of promise – a road at last. We should all shout hurrah! But, wait, before we do a song and dance, let’s do a little analysis (as all critical readers should), and find out if this latest announcement has any substance. We need to ask a few questions.

What is this road going to cost?

Did you notice that the provincial government has set aside $27 million “towards the early stages of the project”? That sounds like a great deal of money, but is it? The first stage of the road is an upgrade on a 90 km section between Hollow Water (Wanipigow) and Bloodvein. If the $27 million is expended on that 90 km, what is the allocation per kilometre? A little simple arithmetic will tell us. Divide $27,000,000 by 90 km, and you get $300,000 per km. Is that reasonable? We simply don’t know, because Owen failed to include information either on the cost per km to upgrade or to build an all-weather road.

How can we find out? Well, the Internet has wonderful data, if you just know how to find it. Go to your search engine and type in “cost of building an all-weather road in Northern Manitoba.” Press “enter” and all kinds of websites come up. Some look interesting. Apparently, it costs $1 to $2 million to build a mile of road in Alaska. That’s northern, of course, but the terrain may be a little different from Manitoba’s. We need to keep looking for something closer. There’s an interesting article online entitled “Economics of Airships for Northern Re-Supply,” and it’s by Dr. Barry Prentice, from the Asper School of Business at our own University of Manitoba! Maybe he knows the cost of building a road in Northern Manitoba. How do we find him? Just phone the Asper School of Business and get his email address. Write and ask him, and voilà, he replies with an answer within hours! Here is what he had to say.

“You are safe to assume that it is at least $1 million per kilometer for a gravel road in the east side of the lake.”

Wow! That’s a lot of money. We need to be careful, however. It is just one opinion, but it’s from an informed person who has compared the costs of road as opposed to air transport to the North. If he’s right, the money the government has set aside so far seems modest. Maybe it can upgrade an existing road for $300,000 per km, but that’s still an open question.

Basing calculations on Dr. Prentice’s information, we can get an idea of the possible costs for building the rest of the road. The most direct route between Bloodvein and Berens River is about 90 km, too, but because of the inevitable twists and turns along the way, the road could be longer. At $1,000,000 per km, that is at least another $90 million dollars. It is to be completed by 2013, so the government will have to allocate at least $30 million each year to get that far. The next leg of the road between Berens River and Poplar River is roughly the same distance. Presumably construction would begin by 2014 and be completed by 2017. From there, the road needs to go another 130 km to reach Norway House. If started in 2018, it would reach Norway House in 2022 or 2023. Island Lake is still more than 200 km east of Norway House over very difficult terrain, and Oxford House about the same distance north-east from Norway House. It could be 2030 before roads reach these communities, which are in dire need of cheaper transportation right now! And the total cost? If the road branched north from the Norway House-Island Lake road, say, 100 km to Oxford House; then, the cost could be as much as $637 million dollars.

Does such a road make economic sense?

There are 22 communities in the region, most of them poor with little in the way of an economic base. Consequently, the cost of such a road will be shouldered by taxpayers outside the region. Is that just, particularly when those same taxpayers are seemingly denied the right to become involved in the development of the region? BiPole III was supposed to go down the East Side, and that would have provided an ideal economic justification for an all-weather road along the same route. However, the government has now decreed that BiPole III will go south along the west side of the lake at a further cost of half up to a billion dollars to be borne by Manitoba’s long-suffering taxpayers (and Canadians elsewhere who make the transfer payments to our “have-not” province). Apparently, it is all because the premier wants a UNESCO designated park on the East side. Wouldn’t it be more sensible to have Bipole III go down the east side, so that Manitoba Hydro could help contribute to the cost of road construction? The half billion dollars we would save by dropping the West Side option could be diverted to the construction as well. Isn’t this a no-brainer?

Consider Eric Robinson’s claim that the hydroelectric transmission line would bring no benefit to the region. How so? Didn’t the government give the east side communities control over what happens on their traditional lands? Why couldn’t they negotiate for a share of the returns for a hydroelectric line through their traditional lands? Even though more Northern bands have become partners in hydroelectric development in their traditional lands, this seems to be denied the communities on the east side. Is the provincial government favouring the west side option, so that it can avoid negotiations as well as partnerships? 

Do you think this issue is going away soon? We don’t think so.

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9 June 2009: “First Nations threaten to snub bill: Unhappy with handling of act” [Winnipeg Free Press, A4]

This article by Bruce Owen highlighted controversy over a bill that the NDP government of Manitoba considered would “pave the way for a world heritage site on the east side of Lake Winnipeg” and “also effectively ban the construction of a hydro power line through the boreal forest.” The government tried to rush it through the legislature, but this backfired when three Island Lake bands (Garden Hill, Wasagamack, and St. Theresa Point) indicated that they would pull out from the East Side Traditional Lands Planning and Special Protected Areas Act” if the government passed Bill 6 in its existing form.

In explanation of the stand by the three communities, spokesman Chief David Harper of Garden Hill said, “The concerns [sic] of my people is that the bill does not rest with First Nations. The concern is it rests with government.” He went on to say that “the province had never properly consulted with First Nations people, either in the crafting of Bill 6 or what it would mean to many isolated communities.” He also claimed that “the province did not give proper notice – from less than 24 hours in some cases to none in others – of the first committee hearing held last Thursday [June]. Since the chiefs were dealing with the H1N1 outbreak at the time, this was unacceptable, and “Sydney Garrioch, grand chief of Manitoba Keewatinook Ininew Okimowin (MKO), an organization that represents northern First Nations in Manitoba, complained to the province the next day.” The result was the June 8 meeting at which the Island Lake First Nations presented their submission.

The bill, which was promised in the 2007 election and introduced before Christmas in the legislature, was designed “to give 15 other bands on the east side unprecedented power to plan and manage their traditional lands that often extend thousands of square kilometres beyond their small reserves.” According to the bill, “No plan for a band’s land will be approved without the signature of the province and the band’s chief.”

Harper also said that the province had not as yet explained how Bill 6 affected the Wabanong Nakaygum Okimawin (WNO) governance process on the east side of the province.” Back on 3 April 2007, the government and the east side bands had signed an agreement “confirming a government-to-government relationship between the two parties.” However, that accord had been violated, as the WNO had not been “treated as an equal to the provincial government.” Owen concluded that “The criticism forced Conservation Minister Stan Struthers to add two amendments to Bill 6: That it will not affect aboriginal treaty rights and that it will include the principles of the WNO.”

Discussion: Controversy over jurisdiction over traditional lands is not going away soon. Since the traditional lands of the First Nations bands on the east side of Lake Winnipeg are also crown lands owned by Canadians, how can an equitable solution to the governance issues be found that protects the interests of all?

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Band Politics:

16 October 2010: “Chiefs must disclose salaries” [Mark Milke, Winnipeg Free Press, H1-6]

This article by Mark Milke, a director of the Fraser Institute’s Alberta office, drew attention to the salaries being paid to chiefs on some of Canada’s reserves. This information was “leaked” to the Canadian Taxpayers Federation (CTF) in “brown envelopes,” apparently by anonymous persons wanting the information public.

Milke cited two Manitoba examples. Chief Glenn Hudson of the Peguis Band earned $221,642 in 2007-08 and $174,230 in 2008-9. Such pay was tax-free, but according to the calculations of the CTF, it was “the taxable equivalent of $678,000.” Four councillors at Peguis made similar salaries. All this for “heading up the reserve equivalent of a small town; the Peguis First Nation has 7,200 members, according to its website.”

Crane River, another Manitoba band, had a population of 432, according to the 2006 census, yet “in other involuntary disclosures courtesy of brown envelopes,” it was revealed that Crane River band councillors made “between $87,500 and $113,400 in tax-free compensation in 2008-09.”

Milke pointed out that this information would not have been publicised, if someone had not leaked it to the CTF, simply because chiefs and Councils on Canada’s reserves are not required to make salaries public. A band member may request this information, but there is no obligation on the part of local government to comply. This is why Conservative member of Parliament Kelly Block put forward a private member’s bill to require the mandatory publication of such salaries to ensure transparency. Milke noted that this made “eminent policy sense” because “taxpayers across Canada – none of whom have tax-free status if they don’t live on reserves – will pay $7.2 billion this year [2010] for Indian Affairs and Northern Affairs Canada alone (there are other related expenditures beyond INAC).”

At present only band members can ask for information on salaries paid to their chief and councillors; the Canadians who pay the taxes to fund those salaries “are not even entitled to ask.”

Shawn Atleo, Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, stated that the private member’s bill was “ill-conceived.” Atleo “blamed the federal government and argued bands file up to 60,000 reports a year, so it’s not the fault of aboriginal governments if spending can’t be tracked.” According to Milke, Atleo “asserted the bill was part of a pattern of insinuations about aboriginal people.”

Milke dismissed these arguments as “red herrings” adding, “Whether reserves must file six reports or 60,000, nothing prevents each reserve from publicizing the details of councillor salaries in the manner that every other village, town and city in Canada must. It’s a basic norm of accountability in democratic societies.”

Milke conceded that publicizing the enormous salaries of a few chiefs and councillors gave all chief and councillors a bad name, but he rejected Atleo’s objection by saying that “the way to deal with that perception is transparency, not by changing the subject.”

Milke’s last point was that most reserves are small, where everyone knows everyone else. If information is withheld from the community, it takes very brave band members to ask for it, knowing that it can cause trouble between them and their neighbours. If publication were automatic, no band member would be placed in this awkward position.

Discussion: Some people on the political left will argue that Mike Milke’s article is invalid because of his association with the conservative Fraser Institute. Why is that argument a “red herring”?

What is Milke’s main argument? Is he correct in rejecting Atleo’s argument as a “red herring”? What would you consider the strongest arguments for transparency regarding the salaries paid to chiefs and councillors:

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17 October 2010: “Records show some chiefs making more than premiers” [Winnipeg Free Press, A7]

Aldo Santin followed up on Mike Milke’s article on band chiefs’ salaries with one of his own. He noted that “paycheques of at least 30 First Nation chiefs were greater than the average premier during 2008-2009.”

This information was obtained by the Canadian Taxpayers Federation through an Access to Information request; however, it criticised “Ottawa for failing to release the identities of the individual chiefs earning the salaries and for refusing to identify other income earned by the chiefs.”

Although Milke never identified who were submitting those “brown envelopes” to the CTF, Santin did make this clear. According to Colin Craig, CTF Prairie director, the salary information they had received from Ottawa was consistent with the information the organization had received from “individual band members across the country.” Craig added that his organisation was trying to draw attention to the problem because “so much of this information is kept confidential.”

The range in salary for these top 30 salaries was “from a high of $247,100 down to $110,376 – tax free.” The “average premier’s salary for the same time period was $109,893.”

Those chiefs’ salaries did not include income they received from other band sources. For example, the chief of the Peguis band earned $126,030 for his job as chief, and another $48,200 from other band sources. Craig added that some chiefs “earn as much as $124,000 in other band-related income that is not disclosed.”

Craig pointed out that he was not saying that all chiefs were so generous with their own salaries, and added that the Access to Information data revealed that five chiefs received no income at all for their role as chief. However, “no one really knows how much income a First Nation chief earns because they are allowed to keep that information confidential.”

Craig’s main point was that there appeared to be “a lot of cases” where chiefs were being “quite generous with their own pay”, a clear “conflict of interest.” Instead, he thought band members should be determining what their chief was paid.

Chief Ron Evans, Grand Chief of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs said “it’s unfair to compare the salaries of chiefs to premiers because premiers receive a life-long pension when they leave office,” but “a chief’s pay stops when he leaves office.” Nevertheless, he had no problem with “identifying the salaries earned by chiefs.” Then, the communities could deal with those chiefs they feel are paying themselves too much money.

Discussion: Based on the articles by Milke and Santin, why do you think band members leaked information to the Canadian Taxpayer Association rather than confronting the issue in their own community?

According to the Access to Information data, five chiefs earned $0, three earned less than $100, and 25 earned between $2,000 and $9,926. Obviously, some Aboriginal politicians are not being paid very much at all. Why would it be useful for people to know who these chiefs are? Could they serve as appropriate role models for Aboriginal youth? Could publication of their apparent selfless service help reduce the shame that Aboriginal people may feel about the publicity given to the high salaries of some chiefs?

Did Grand Chief Ron Evans have a legitimate argument for the high salaries some chiefs pay themselves?

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23 October 2010: “People ought to know what chiefs earn” [Winnipeg Free Press, H11]

Colleen Simard’s quip in response to the expose of chiefs’ salaries in the Milke and Santin articles was, “Wow – I’m in the wrong career.” “The crazy part” for her was the fact that the Canadian Taxpayers Federation did not get all the information it had requested of the government through the Access to Information Act. There were no “‘extra’ columns, like under the title of ‘travel’ or the always interesting ‘other.’” The offending chiefs were not named, and there was nothing about councillors’ salaries included.

Simard noted that there were 615 chiefs altogether, so that meant that 95 percent were probably earning “a decent wage”. She cited Assembly of First Nations information indicating that most chiefs earned “about $60,000 a year.”

Because of her concerns, Simard endorsed the First Nations Financial Transparency Act that a private member had introduced in the House of Commons. For her, it was a step toward accountability and greater democracy on reserves.

Simard wondered why Indians Affairs had caps on housing and education funding, but didn’t have caps on chiefs’ salaries. She also wondered why it did not identify the chiefs getting high salaries. Her hypothesis was that Indian Affairs acted in this way to keep the chiefs complacent. She suggested that the $7 billion a year spent on reserves was “just a drop in the financial bucket if you consider the alternative.” For her the alternative was honouring the treaties and recognising indigenous rights. If the chiefs educated themselves about indigenous rights, “there might be a real fight for a claim to land and resources on the horizon.” Since Canada “easily makes 21 times that $7 billion from our natural resources in a year – about $147 billion in 2008,” it could be costly to the government if First Nations “gained some form of control or say over the lands and resources.” It would “add up to much more than $7 billion – or five percent of Canada’s natural resources – a year, that’s for sure.” That is why, in Simard’s view, “maybe paying these guys to run things keeps everyone happy.”

Discussion: Simard essentially agreed with the points raised in the Milke and Santin articles. The 30 chiefs were being paid too much, and their names and salaries should be publicized to encourage accountability on reserves. However, she suggested secrecy surrounding those salaries might be some kind of plot by Indian Affairs to keep chiefs complacent and happy with things as they are. According to her argument, if salaries were capped, it might make the chiefs restless and more willing to educate themselves on indigenous rights to land and resources. However, only 30 of the 615 chiefs were paying themselves exorbitant salaries. The other 585 were apparently exercising much greater restraint. How would capping salaries make them restless and more willing to educate themselves about indigenous rights, if their salaries were already reasonable? Does Simard’s argument make sense?

Moreover, is this the place for raising indigenous claims to land and resources? What does that have to do with the problem Milke and Santin raised concerning chiefs’ salaries and transparency in band governance? Could Simard’s hypothesis be described as a ‘red herring’ in this context?

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23 November 2010: “Band councillor pulls in $1M, records reveal” [Richard Foot, Winnipeg Free Press, A8]

It’s the story that doesn’t seem to want to go away. In the fall of 2010, the Canadian Taxpayers Federation used access to information law to obtain details from the Department of Indian Affairs about the salaries of First Nation chiefs and councillors on over 600 First Nations across Canada. Although the names of the band leaders and their communities were not listed, their salaries, honoraria and travel expenses were. Journalist Richard Foot analyzed the results and came up with a summary of the main points. According to his findings, “at least 80 native chiefs and band councillors made more money last year [2009] than Prime Minister Harper, and at least 200 were paid more than their provincial premiers.”

The chief of a band in Atlantic Canada with only 304 people was paid a “total, tax-free income of $243,000.” The three councillors in that band each received “more than $200,000 in band salaries, travel per diems and honoraria.” However, one of them was paid an additional $728,000 in “other remuneration,” giving him a total salary of $978,468 “in tax free income … the equivalent of about $1.8 million in taxable income earned off reserve.” He was not alone. There were 82 other aboriginal politicians like him across Canada, who received “higher salaries last year than the prime minister.” They were distributed as follows: 18 in British Columbia, 47 in Alberta, 2 in Saskatchewan, 5 in Manitoba, 1 in Ontario, and 9 in Atlantic Canada.

The information obtained by the Canadian Taxpayers Federation did not indicate the individual names and First Nation communities to which they belonged, but the federation was “pressuring the government to make the salaries and other income of First Nations politicians publicly available on the Internet.”

Foot noted that the Assembly of First Nations “declined to comment on the salary records, when they were released on November 22, but earlier AFN National Chief Shawn Atleo had “lashed out at the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, calling its campaign to publicize native political incomes as ‘an insult that paints First Nations leadership as overpaid, unaccountable local bosses, uninterested in the challenges faced by First Nations citizen.’” Atleo added, “I know the men and women they slander … I see their daily struggles as committed leaders, and I meet them on the job, on reserve, every week across Canada.”

Discussion: Considering that many Aboriginal people face poverty, unemployment, and the indignity of welfare, how do you think the revelations about excessive salaries by some aboriginal politicians would be received on the reserves?

Why are aboriginal politicians able to get away with such salaries? What is there about the governance on reserves that would allow this type of corruption? How is the Department of Indian Affairs involved?

Exorbitant salaries are not confined to aboriginal politicians alone. There is this potential in all political jurisdictions. What needs to be in place to ensure that salaries are within an acceptable range?

What do you think of National Chief Atleo’s response to the revelations?

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24 November 2010: “Outraged chief slams release of salary stats: Calls reporters in, refuses questions” [Postmedia News, Canadian Press, as featured in the Winnipeg Free Press, A7]

This article appeared in the Winnipeg Free Press the day following an article by Richard Foot on the same subject. The Maritime community with the high salaries was “Glooscap First Nation, a tiny Nova Scotia reserve of 300 people in rural Nova Scotia,” but with only 87 members living in the community. In the wake of this negative publicity, Shirley Clarke, chief of the band, and councillors, her sister Lorraine Whitman and their cousin, Michael Halliday, called a press conference at the Glooscap band office, where Chief Clarke read a statement to the assembled journalists.

Unlike non-Mi’kmaq politicians, we do not receive vehicle allowances, pensions, benefits, insurance or dry cleaning reimbursements.

It is unfortunate that once again, the public is too easily entertained by inaccurate, negative publicity once again, focusing on the Mi’kmaq.

The issue of compensation for chiefs and council in Atlantic Canada is complex at this time. We don’t fully agree with the conclusions that have been reached.

After giving her statement, “Clarke and her councillors left the room refusing to answer questions from reporters.” All of their salaries were high. One of the councillors received $978,000, more than $700,000 of which was classified as “other remuneration,” which is defined as “income paid for work related to band-owned enterprises, such as gas stations and casinos, or band-awarded contracts, such as snow plowing [sic].”

Glooscap has “a store and gas bar, a video lottery parlour and the band office and health centre, all surrounded by a small neighbourhood of modest homes on the outskirts of the town of Hantsport.” Its residents expressed shock at the salaries of the chief and councillors “for running a small community.” One, who didn’t want her name published for fear of losing her job in one of the band-owned businesses,” said that “many Glooscap residents are unemployed, and collect $110 per week in welfare payments.” She added that “the Glooscap reserve is run by a small group of powerful families.”

The Taxpayers Federation was publicising chief and councillor’s salaries in preparation for a private member’s bill in the House of Commons that “seeks to make public the salaries of politicians in First Nations communities.” Eighty-eight of them across the country made “more than the prime minister’s annual salary of $317,574,” all of which was “tax-free.”

Chief Lawrence Paul of Nova Scotia’s Millbrook band had no problem with this push for transparency “if the same standards applied to all governments and corporations.” He said that “higher salaries may address shortfalls in other areas such as lack of pension plans” because “if a chief is defeated and he doesn’t have any Canada Pension or Old Age Pension cheques coming in he has to go on social assistance.”

Discussion: In view of the size of the resident population of Glooscap, are the salaries of the chief and councillors reasonable?

Why did the people not already know what the salaries were? What would they have to do to prevent this from happening in the future? Why is such action difficult in a small community?

Evidently there are no pension plans and other benefits for some aboriginal politicians working on reserves. How could this problem be resolved? Is this sufficient argument for the salaries paid at Glooscap? 

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27 November 2010: “No pension, minimal perks – just a million bucks a year” [Tom Oleson, Winnipeg Free Press, H12]

Tom Oleson, provocative as always, picked up on the story about the high salaries some chiefs and councillors received in Canada. He started his piece with a summary.

The records, released by the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, show that a councillor of one band in Atlantic Canada is paid almost $1 million to oversee the affairs of a reserve with only 300 members. In Manitoba, the Peguis reserve, which has 3,604 members, has five councillors to serve them and they are paid an average of $252,426.

Then, he commented on the reaction of aboriginal leaders, suggesting that it was not unlike that of politicians in general to the question of their remuneration.

Some native leaders were angry, some were defensive, but curiously, none of them seemed to be embarrassed by the fact 82 of them make more money than the prime minister and even more of them make more in wages than the premiers of the provinces where they live. Like Canadian politicians in all areas of government, they seem to feel “entitled to their entitlements.”

Oleson next focused on the Glooscap First nation. He described Chief Shirley Clarke and her councillors as “the best-paid politicians in the country.” Oleson wrote that Clarke was “angry and defensive” over the Canadian Taxpayer revelations, and “defiantly defensive of the salaries she and her two councillors - one is her sister, the other her cousin – receive.” He mentioned her press conference called to refute “inaccurate, negative publicity” over the release of the salary information, then added that she “refused to answer any questions, to correct any inaccuracies or offer any justification for these extraordinary wages when many of the reserve’s residents live on $110 a week from welfare.”

Oleson also responded to her defence, “We do not receive vehicle allowances, pension benefits, insurance or dry-cleaning reimbursements.”

One hardly knows how to respond to that kind of logic, except to say that, with a salary a $1 million or more a year, most of us could probably and cheerfully afford to pay for our own dry cleaning.

Discussion: How did Oleson make his disdain of Chief Clarke’s reaction apparent in his news article? Was he being fair? Or was this an accurate reflection of Canadian attitudes concerning politicians “at the trough”?

In the classic Animal Farm, the pigs eventually took over control and subjugated the other animals to dictatorial rule. In justification of their privilege, they put up a slogan, “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.” Would that slogan apply to Glooscap First Nation? Why?

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14 December 2010: “Chiefs to debate opening the books” [Mia Rabson, Winnipeg Free Press, A6]

All the negative publicity about the large amount of money some chiefs and councillors received got a response at the Assembly of First Nations conference at Gatineau, Quebec, in mid-December 2010. One of the first items on the agenda for the 600 chiefs in attendance was the issue of accountability.

A British Columbia chief put a resolution on the table that “would see native bands agree to make public audits, public accounts, salaries, expenses and honorariums…and seek help from the federal government to establish a First Nations auditor general or ombudsman.”

Journalist Mia Rabson noted that this proposal was similar to “a private member’s bill from Saskatchewan Conservative MP Kelly Block” that the AFN had previously opposed, and added, “that Block’s bill would require all bands to make public salaries and expenses of band councils at the end of each fiscal year … [or] the federal government would have the authority to do it for them.”

Ron Evans, Grand Chief of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs said he “would consider the resolution,” but felt that “First Nations are already more accountable than most governments,” being required, as reported by Sheila Fraser, the auditor-general, “to submit more than 60 accountability reports a year to the federal government, most of which were never read.”

Rabson summarised the findings of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, which took the position that publication of “salaries and expenses would limit corruption.”

Grand Chief Evans argued that the fact the CTF was able to get the figures proved that there was openness already. Rabson quoted him as saying, “One would have to think if we’re not accountable where did those figures come from?” However, as Rabson pointed out, “The CTF figures do not show what chiefs and councillors made which amounts.”

According to the First Nations leaders, that was the problem with the CTF numbers because the salaries were inflated by the inclusion of “travel expenses and per diems in addition to base salaries.”

Evans tried to turn the tables by noting that Ottawa required “dozens of fiscal accountability reports” each year, but would not “divulge basic information about its own expenses.” Rabson enlarged on this charge.

That includes details, for example, of how the department of Indian and Northern Affairs spent nearly $1.6 million on overseas travel between 2006/7 and 2009/10 … .The information provided in response to an NDP written order paper question, includes the country of destination, the amount the trip cost and the month and year the trip occurred. But more detailed information, such as how many people went on the trip, why it was taken and what it accomplished cannot be provided.

Discussion: There are a number of interesting questions that can be generated from this news article. For instance,

Why was the AFN opposed to the bill proposed by MP Kelly Block? Rabson did not say, but would that not be valuable information for readers, so that they could more intelligently assess the situation?

Was the inclusion of accountability at the AFN conference in Gatineau the result of recent negative publicity, or was it already on the agenda? If it was the publicity in the media that prompted its inclusion, what does that suggest about the importance of investigative reporting and a free press?

A “red herring” is a tactic to deflect attention from the real issue. Could the chief’s quibbles about the inclusion of travel expenses and per diems be viewed in this way? On the other hand, if this makes the “salary” appear larger than it actually is, do the chiefs have a point?

The Department of Indian Affairs spent $1.6 million for overseas travel during a four year period. Do a little analysis. That’s $400,000 a year. That’s the expenditure of an entire federal department. How does that compare to the annual salaries, per diems and other expenses of the Glooscap chief and her two councillors, who are responsible for no more than 300 people? Which is more exorbitant?

Why is it important for Canadians to know the purpose of trips taken by government leaders overseas and whether they accomplished anything? Why isn’t this being done by the Department of Indians Affairs?

The reference to the $1.6 million spent by Indian Affairs on “overseas travel” raises further questions. How much was being spent on “travel inside Canada” and on “other expenditures” not specified? Is the $1.6 million just the edge of the iceberg? 

This news story underscores the need for transparency in all governing bodies in Canada. Why is it important for there to be a check on individuals in government, either as elected officials or bureaucrats, who are in a position to vote their own salaries and perks?

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15 December 2010: “First Nations leaders seek transparency on reserve” [Mia Rabson, Winnipeg Free Press, A8]

In a follow-up to her December 14 article, Rabson reported that the delegates to the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) in Gatineau, Quebec, had voted “unanimously” in favour of “a resolution to be more open about chiefs’ salaries and band finances.” However, it was “not binding,” and could only be enforced by band members voting out “non-compliant chiefs” or “by persuasion.”

The resolution was put forward by Doug Kelly, former chief of the Soowahlie First Nation in British Columbia, in response to the report of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation (CTF). He did it, so that attention could be diverted from “how much chiefs make” to “the Third World conditions and lack of services available on reserves.”

Kelly was angry with the CTF report, which he described as “loaded with inaccuracies.” He condemned it because it “inflated salaries by including travel expenses,” then “arbitrarily inflating actual salaries to account for most of them being paid tax-free.” The AFN argued in a written response that the actual salaries showed that “no chiefs earned more than the prime minister and only 21 leaders earned more than their provincial premiers.” According to AFN calculations, “the average band leader’s salary was $36,845. (Rabson noted that the average salary in Manitoba was $42,812 and that no one was receiving a salary larger than the provincial premier.)

The CTF report was described by angry chiefs as “a smear campaign,” and Kelly alluded to getting the “rednecks out of the equation,” but Colin Craig, the Manitoba director of the CTF, stood by the figures, pointing out that “reserves are already supposed to make information on finances available to band members, but numerous band members had approached the CTF complaining that doesn’t happen.” He supported the chief’s resolution and added that transparency would show “which chiefs are getting paid a reasonable sum.”

Discussion: Chief Doug Kelly acknowledged that the AFN could only “urge, encourage, use a little bit of guilt, a little bit of shame” to get chiefs to comply with the resolution. What does that indicate about the authority of the AFN?

The CTF report indicated that some chiefs were either paid nothing or only a very small amount. If the CTF was engaged in a “smear campaign,” why would it publicise such figures?

Elsewhere in Rabson’s article, the CTF was described as a “privately funded right-wing advocacy organisation.” Why is this “loaded language” in the polarised politics of North America? Since its focus on tax issues involves aboriginals as well as non-aboriginals, is it fair to say the CTF is “redneck” or “racist” where aboriginals are concerned? Is the accusation another “red herring”?

According to Rabson, the response by the chiefs was angry and defensive. Is it possible that some were genuinely embarrassed by the inflated salaries of some chiefs and therefore supportive of the CTF Report? How could the report help honest, hardworking chiefs address the issues it raised?

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Last updated: February 14, 2011

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