Report, then Reform Reserves


We have long been advocates of more independence and responsibility for First Nations governments; not just more money and power — the typical demands of national Aboriginal politicians — but more transparency and accountability to those governed by band councils, too.

That is why we applaud the efforts of Winnipeg’s Frontier Centre for Public Policy. Last week the FCPP released its third annual ranking of the effectiveness of administration on Prairie reserves based on five criteria: impartiality of elections, effectiveness of band administration, respect for human rights, transparency of band business and success at generating economic activity.

Many non-Aboriginal communities would have trouble scoring well, measured against those yardsticks. Happily, a good number of First Nations did very well. Ten of the 68 reserves measured in the study received scores of 65% or higher. Based on more than 5,000 surveys conducted with band councillors and ordinary band residents, the FCPP results paint a reliable picture of the state of Aboriginal local governance. As the centre points out, while it found some examples of abysmal reserve administration, there was also plenty of “positive news.” Many bands who have been surveyed all three years now are using the results to encourage internal reforms, while others with high rankings have used their scores to attract non-Aboriginal business investment.

Not all Prairie reserves participate in the FCPP assessment, so it would be inaccurate to insist the survey necessarily identifies the very best or worst bands. But to the extent it forces band leaders and members to examine what they are doing right and wrong, it is more than just a useful exercise. The FCPP survey could be a catalyst for better governance on reserves.

As the authors point out, “good governance is crucial” as a precursor to self-government and prosperity. The Frontier Centre survey, then, may be a useful step toward those goals.