Good stories about First Nations communities need more attention.
There is some truth to the observation that the media — and I include myself as a columnist — can sometimes focus disproportionately on negative aspects of First Nations governance. This is not malicious as there is a hope that by airing challenges they can be corrected.
Here’s a great story. Recently, the Frontier Centre for Public Policy presented a $5,000 award and a commemorative plaque to Fisher River Cree Nation for obtaining the highest score among Manitoba bands in our annual Aboriginal Governance Index (AGI).
Fisher River is just over 200 kms north of Winnipeg and adheres to Treaty 5.
The results were released several months ago, but we got around to presenting the award at a mutually convenient time and place.
The AGI involves grassroots band members filling out surveys on their perception of the quality of governance and services in their community. All three Prairie provinces are involved and communities participate voluntarily as we approach leadership before conducting the surveying. Members are asked questions in four broad areas of governance: services/administration, elections, human rights, and transparency. The responses are converted into a numerical score that allows us to “rank” the communities.
The goal of the AGI is not negative, but allows First Nations to know how they place relative to other First Nations and understand what high performing bands are doing and hopefully to share best practices.
We met with long time Chief David Crate and his council in Winnipeg. The chief and council had clear goals for advancing the community economically, socially, and culturally. In 2011, they announced the completion of cottage lots on the west side of Lake Winnipeg that provide a revenue stream for Fisher River. They are now expanding more lots on the north side of Lake Winnipeg.
Credible studies on successional indigenous communities always stress the importance of separating elected politics from service delivery, administration and band economic ventures. Program managers focus on delivering the best services and focus on results and not politics. In a business context, business managers focus on profitability and the bottom line and do not become job creation funds for chief and council.
In two key areas Fisher River is heading in this positive direction: education and housing.
The Fisher River Cree Nation Board of Education Policy Manual clearly states: “On the whole, Fisher River Cree Nation Band Council provides the board and the administration with the autonomy to develop their own policies and strategic plans.” Here it is more explicit: “The lines of communication are clear and the council does not micro-manage programs and allows and provides support to the programs to do the work.”
Nora Murdock, the community’s education director, said, “advances and progress in our education system (are) because of the supportive political environment.”
The band council also created an independent housing authority where eligibility is based on a point system, so no names are used as a way of being fair.
If our survey results are an indication, Fisher River band members are clearly noticing these movements towards accountability and transparency.
For this achievement, Fisher River Cree Nation deserves a hearty applause.