A small, central Alberta reserve has been awarded $50,000 for having the best-running government out of 98 First Nations in the prairie region.
The results are based on surveys of community members organized by the Winnipeg-based policy institute, the Frontier Centre. “I’m proud of it; really proud of it,” said Martin Ironbow, councillor for the O’Chiese First Nation near Rocky Mountain House, 150 kilometres southwest of Edmonton.
Out of 44 First Nations in Alberta, 16 allowed the survey workers onto the reserve to approach community members with their questions, which rated their satisfaction with their council’s transparency, value for human rights and fair elections, effectiveness of the administration and how well it encourages growth in the economy.
O’Chiese council was to be presented with the award in Winnipeg on Thursday, but their chief and many council members stayed home to attend a funeral for a 48-year-old band member, the community’s plumber. An administrator and one councillor are accepting the award on the 1,100-member nation’s behalf.
Ironbow said one of the most important things his council does is support its members when they come to council with educational or business plans. “They have to start on their own, but we help them,” he said, often by setting up a one-time grant and by awarding youth for graduations.
The rural reserve is a firehall, health centre and collection of houses close to the mountains, where moose and elk are still in good supply. Some community members are involved in construction for oil and gas in the area, and helping to build roads. Crowds turn out to watch their hockey team during the winter. Members are hoping to open a truck stop and golf course in 2010.
If you look at their website, their election and audit results from 2007-08 are posted openly, which is not common for First Nation reserves, said Joseph Quesnel, Lethbridge based co-author of the study. “Even in that way, a small way, it shows accountability to citizens.”
The award started three years ago with a focus on First Nations in Manitoba. This was the first year First Nations in Alberta were included.