Chiefs Aren’t Needed On This CFS Board: Child welfare agency cannot become politicized

Commentary, Aboriginal Futures, Joseph Quesnel


First appeared in the Winnipeg Sun on January 21, 2011
The Southern First Nations Network of Care (Southern Authority) is in dispute with aboriginal political leadership over its decision to prevent five chiefs from sitting on its board.
The Southern Authority oversees 10 aboriginal child and family service agencies in southern Manitoba.
Under Manitoba law, the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs is responsible for naming directors to the authority’s board. However, the authority’s bylaws prohibit First Nation chiefs and councillors from sitting on the body.
The Southern Authority feels so strongly about the matter it is filing an application with the Court of Queen’s Bench to force out the chiefs.
The focus must be on the 4,000 children in the care of these 10 aboriginal agencies in southern Manitoba. That alone should propel the parties in dispute to lay politics and ambitions aside for the sake of the vulnerable.
What is essential is aboriginal representation on this body. Reports indicate there are three members already on the board. They are chairwoman Wendy Whitecloud, a University of Manitoba law professor; Wayne Helgason, a former longtime executive director of the Social Planning Council of Winnipeg; and Michael Hart, a member of Fisher River First Nation.
So, aboriginal representation and interests are not lacking in this body. Once we dispense with that, we realize it is the belief among the aboriginal political leadership that they deserve a say in this organization.
No one is saying the chiefs excluded from the board have bad motives or are out to politicize the organization. However, it would be good practice to exclude First Nation politicians from the board on the basis service delivery should be kept as far away from politics as possible on principle — especially since the organization deals with vulnerable children.
With the inclusion of aboriginal people and the possibility of including other non-political aboriginal experts, one questions why the chiefs are so insistent on sitting on this board. With so many problems in Indian Country involving politicized business management or service delivery in band governments, why add another issue to their already-full plate?
The 2003 Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development focused its research on U.S. tribes but its findings are applicable to Canadian bands. It concluded a main element for tribal economic and social success was clear separation of politics from business operation. This applies to service delivery.
Stephen Cornell, main researchers with the Harvard Project, said tribes where reserve-based businesses were protected from political interference are four times as likely to be profitable than those that are not.
The reason? The business can focus on the bottom line and not hire and fire based on politics.
With the lives of children at stake, it is imperative the board be solely focused on the welfare of children. This is why it should be filled with people who are child welfare and legal experts and yet sensitive to circumstances on First Nation communities.
That can be achieved without band politicians, so these chiefs need to step aside.