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The Economist: Canada's First Nations Who wants to be a millionaire?

The Economist: Canada's First Nations Who wants to be a millionaire?

Posted by Juan Gavasa on August 13, 2014

Canada’s long and troubled history with its First Nations (native Indians) hit a new bump this month with a fight over whether First Nations' chiefs and councils should make public their salaries and expenses. A transparency law passed last year required Canada's 634 First Nations communities to publish these details online by August 1st. But the deadline passed with barely one-third of communities complying. The federal government is threatening to cut funding to the dissidents.

Greater compliance may now be unlikely, given the furore caused by the whopping pay-packet of the chief of an 82-member First Nation in British Columbia. Information posted online by the Kwikwetlem First Nation, as required by the legislation, showed that last year Ron Giesbrecht (pictured) received C$84,800 ($77,400) in salary for his duties as chief and economic-development officer, plus a bonus of C$800,000 for bringing new economic development to the community.

Proponents of the law seized on the case as proof that more transparency is needed in how First Nations spend public funds. A spokesman for the Canadian Taypayers Federation, a right-wing lobby group, called Mr Giesbrecht's pay “outrageous” and called for the Kwikwetlems' funding to be cut. (It is unclear how much money the federal government provides to this group, or to First Nations in general, as it is not broken out separately in the ministry’s online reports.)

First Nations' groups counter that the Kwikwetlem case is an outlier, that they already provide salary and expenses details privately to the federal government and that they are now being held to a higher standard of transparency than other levels of government. They also worry that the law could mean that the accounts of companies they control on their reserves could be made public, handing a gift to their competitors. Some dissident chiefs say they will block pipelines in western Canada if the federal government makes good on its threat to cut their funding.

The deeper source of unhappiness is that the government did not consult the First Nations, as it is required to do, before introducing the legislation, and passed it despite their objections. The act is "another colonial control tool, nothing more”, says Derek Nepinak, the grand chief of the Manitoba First Nation. He considers it ironic that the federal government is insisting on more openness from the First Nations just as it is being criticised over an expenses scandal of its own in the Senate.

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