WINNIPEG/LETHBRIDGE – The Frontier Centre for Public Policy today released the fifth Aboriginal Governance Index (AGI). The AGI is an ambitious project that promotes accountability, transparency and the dissemination of best practices by evaluating how grassroots Aboriginal individuals perceive the quality of governance institutions in Prairie First Nations. The AGI relies on opinion surveys to gather residents’ perceptions of their band’s government, and ranks each participating band on the basis of those surveys. This year’s project involved 32 First Nations communities. In total, there were 3,084 surveys, 2,662 in person and 422 by telephone. For the first time, the Frontier Centre commissioned COMPAS – a public opinion firm – to perform professional phone surveys of select First Nations that could be easily reached by telephone.
The AGI measures four different government dimensions based on survey responses in each community and combines them to produce an overall score that provides a general indicator of the strength of governance institutions in each community. The dimensions of good government evaluated in the report are:
- Elections: How fair and impartial are votes for leaders?
- Services/Administration: How well are health, education, social and other public services delivered?
- Human Rights: How much regard do First Nation governments assign to basic procedural rights?
- Transparency: How open are First Nations governments in terms of disclosing important information to the membership?
Top ten First Nation: One of the primary objectives of the AGI is to showcase examples of good government in indigenous communities, and to bring attention to successful First Nations governments so that their best practices can be studied and emulated by leaders elsewhere. The following ten reserves earned the highest overall scores in this year’s AGI. All scores are out of 100 possible points:
• Ahtahkakoop Cree Nation (SK) 72%
• Onion Lake Cree Nation (SK) 69%
• Montreal Lake Cree Nation (SK) 69%
• Red Earth First Nation (SK) 68%
• Fisher River Cree Nation (MB) 66%
• Long Plain First Nation (MB) 65%
• Siksika Nation (AB) 65%
• Mistawasis First Nation (SK) 65%
• Norway House Cree Nation (MB) 63%
• Cross Lake Band (MB) 62%
The Frontier Centre wishes to remind the public as well as the interested media that we do not approach all First Nations for our surveying. For statistical purposes, we do not include communities with fewer than 100 on-reserve adults (according to current Aboriginal Affairs numbers).
Strengths and Weaknesses
The AGI project seeks to identify areas of general strength and weakness in terms of the quality of governance institutions in Prairie First Nations. While recognizing the diversity of First Nations communities and being wary of overly broad generalizations, the size of our survey sample and the detail of our questionnaires provide information that can help us to understand better the general areas of strength and weakness in indigenous governance structures in the Prairie Provinces.
• Elections are again an area of strength. When we asked respondents whether they thought the votes were counted fairly in the most-recent election, a small majority (54 per cent) of respondents expressed complete confidence that they were “definitely” counted fairly.
• Unfortunately, our surveys suggest nepotism is a problem in some communities. We asked whether respondents thought that friends and relatives of the chief and council members “tend to get the better jobs or better housing.” We asked them to reply on a 7-point scale. Troublingly, fully a third stated that favouritism “definitely” takes place. An additional 7 per cent of respondents gave the next strongest answer, suggesting they think favouritism very likely occurs in their communities. By comparison, just 16 per cent of respondents indicated that this kind of favouritism definitely does not occur.
• The responses to our survey questions about transparency varied. Some respondents reported good access to information about band council activities while others reported severely restricted access. For example, when we asked whether everyone who lives on reserve is allowed to find out what decisions council has recently made, slightly fewer than one-third of respondents said “definitely, yes.” Just under 20 per cent provided an answer at the opposite end of the spectrum, saying individuals are “definitely not” able to gain access to information about recent council decisions.
Respondents’ Expectations of Governance
The results show that First Nations people have clear expectations about several characteristics of good governance. The data show that there is a broad consensus among First Nations people across the Prairies on several issues concerning how governments should conduct themselves.
• Respondents demonstrated a firmly held view that governments should be highly transparent. When asked whether they thought that everyone in the community should be able to find out what decisions band council makes, approximately 80 per cent of respondents answered “definitely, yes.” Similarly, when asked whether they thought all residents should be able to learn how much money is paid to band chiefs and council members, approximately 77 per cent also responded “definitely, yes.” Only 9 per cent of respondents said this information should “definitely not” be freely available to anybody who wants it.
• Another view about good governance that commands a near consensus in First Nations communities is a strongly held opposition to nepotism. We asked our respondents whether they consider it “right and fair” for the chief and council to award better housing or better jobs to their friends and relatives compared with other residents. Over 70 per cent of respondents gave the strongest possible negative response, indicating that they think it is not at all “right and fair” for friends and relatives of council members to receive this sort of special treatment. Less than 10 per cent of respondents expressed the opposite view.
Joseph Quesnel, primary author of the study, stated that he is pleased with the results of the study and is happy to report continuing progress on perceived fairness of band elections, as well as some progress in members’ growing sense of accountability. Quesnel said it is positive that just under 20 per cent of all respondents said “definitely not” when asked if they have access to recent band council decisions.
“First Nations citizens will be better served by reducing this small minority concerned about transparent decision-making even further,” he said.
Quesnel says it is unfortunate that fewer First Nations participated this year, particularly in Alberta. However, he is certain more work can be done in building relationships with First Nations this year, which will yield higher participation.
“We want to remind all First Nations communities – and especially leaders – that the AGI is a positive tool designed to help First Nations improve and share their best practices. We have seen many bands show amazing improvements over the five years, which is largely a testament to the hard work of reform-minded chiefs and councils.”
Quesnel points to results this year highlighting expectations that average band members have of their governments.
“We should not be surprised that First Nations citizens – like all Canadians– expect their leaders to be transparent and ethical. Our survey clearly suggests that,” said Quesnel.
Given recent attention to chief and councilor salaries by some organizations, as well as recent federal legislation mandating disclosure, Quesnel also pointed out that, “the vast majority of First Nation respondents who participated in our study hold the position that First Nations leaders should be transparent to their own members on salaries and benefits. The data tell us that approximately 77 per cent of respondents answered “definitely, yes” when asked whether they thought all residents should be able to learn how much money is paid to band chiefs and council members.
For the survey analysis and the full list of band rankings, the Frontier Centre's Expecting Good Governance on Prairie First Nations: The Fifth Annual Aboriginal Governance Index can be downloaded HERE.
For more information and to arrange an interview with the study's authors, media (only) should contact: