First Nations Government Outreach and Accountability
by Alexander Lutchman
February 28, 2017 | News
The erosion of accountability is an undeniable reality present in current Canadian politics: as seen recently in the case of closed door Liberal Party Fundraisers. But our federal government is not alone in it’s opaqueness, many First Nations governments are now facing their own issues of transparency.
The First Nation’s Financial Transparency Act passed in 2013 provides a medium for governments to publish their financial information. After winning majority in 2015, the Trudeau government removed animportant mechanism in the act that would have otherwise permitted the federal government to withhold funds from First Nations who did not publish audited financial information. Following this removal, compliance fell from 92% under the Harper government to 85% now.
In December 2016, band members of the Alexander First Nation, situated near Edmonton, filed a suit against their current and former chief for dubious financial activity. Both were accused of stealing 2 million dollars worth of payments between 2013 and 2015.
In light of secrecy becoming seemingly more or less acceptable, some Canadians have begun inquiring on how indigenous communities allocate their funds, and whether they need what they are receiving.
The average indigenous person is generally worse off financially than the average Canadian citizen. Median income for aboriginals is about 10,000$ lower than the national median, although the gap is closing, employment is still a major issue. Canada’s unemployment rate sits just below 7%, comparatively aboriginal unemployment is at 15%: where 50% of native children currently live in poverty.
The economic situation presents a strange predicament since government funds do not seem to be reaching the people. Higher levels of poverty among indigenous peoples is not just limited to the purlieus of the reserve. Often in urban environments indigenous peoples feel alienated, Michelle Smith Journeys coordinator at Dawson College explains: “Students talked about feeling uncomfortable on campus, about going to class and never talking to anyone, about having friends who dropped out because they didn’t feel like they belonged, about eating lunch alone in their car.”
Under the First Nations Financial Transparency Act (FNFTA), the federal government pays approximately $2000 more for each registered First Nations person than for each Canadian. The disparity in payment can be attributed to the fact that reserve governments need to provide services generally subsidised by provincial and municipal governments. Included in these services is mental health services.
In 2016 the leading cause of death amongst Indigenous peoples was self-inflicted injury. In fact, 1 in 5 indigenous adults have admitted to thinking about self-harm. “I was struck by the lack of support for Indigenous students at the college and lack of indigenous presence in general [before the establishment of the First Nations Initiative]” explains Mrs. Smith.
Recently, the federal government has decided to provide $68 million for indigenous health services. The shrinking number of audited financial reports is alarming. But it is only through auditing financial information and providing it to the people can they know that their governments are acting responsibly.
In an effort to teach more about indigenous issues, the First Peoples Initiative hosts Awareness Days in early April.