Group Rates Manitoba First Nations

Media Appearances, Aboriginal Futures, Frontier Centre

The authors of a new study ranking First Nation governments in areas such as human rights and transparency, say they hope their findings will encourage those who scored near the bottom to become more accountable.

The study by the Frontier Centre for Public Policy surveyed approximately 350 people on 59 reserves in Manitoba. Poplar River, on the eastern shores of Lake Winnipeg, had the highest score, a 75 per cent rating.

At the other end of the scale was Buffalo Point, with 10 per cent. Located in the southeastern corner of the province, the reserve scored zero in the elections category.

The community has a hereditary chief and doesn’t hold elections.

Westman’s top reserve was Rolling River First Nation, near Erickson, which finished fourth with 67 per cent rating. Following closely behind was Gamblers, near Binscarth, in fifth place with 66 per cent while Swan Lake finished in sixth spot with 63 per cent.

At the other end of the scale, Sioux Valley Dakota Nation scored ninth from the bottom with a 36 per cent score while Birdtail First Nation near Birtle was the lowest-ranked Westman reserve in 54th place.

The ratings were derived from a series of questions in six categories. The majority of the bands, including Keeseekoowenin (17th), Canupawakpa (20th) and Waywayseecappo (24th) scored in the 40 per cent to 55 per cent range.

Don Sandberg, the lead researcher on the study, said hopefully it will “kickstart” reforms on First Nations. According to the authors, part of the problem is rooted in the Indian Act which gives chief and council extraordinary powers with few checks and balances.

Dennis Owens, a senior policy analyst with the think-tank, said the openness of band governments depends largely on the type of person elected.

The report’s authors note that most of the band councils they approached refused to participate in the study and for the most part, small samples of band members filled out their surveys or were interviewed in person by Sandberg.

Four bands were omitted from the study because no one from those First Nations was able to answer Frontier’s questions.

The Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, however, dismissed the results, calling the study unscientific. Lorne Cochrane, AMC’s executive director, said questions about the quality of health care and housing, fail to take into account the role of the federal government in failing to provide adequate funding.

“We are not opposed to accountability,” said Cochrane, adding that AMC was never approached by the centre to get involved.

Peter Holle, the centre’s president, admitted that the survey may not be perfect but noted that it’s the first time anyone has tried to rate the performance of First Nation governments.

He said they plan on doing it annually and would like to expand it into other provinces, like Saskatchewan.

— Brandon Sun/FPNS