Sioux Valley Should Take Cautious Approach After Signing Self-Governance Agreement: Good governance essential

Aboriginal Futures, Commentary, Joseph Quesnel, Saskatchewan, Uncategorized

Sioux Valley Dakota First Nation, located west of Brandon, has signed an agreement that will provide it with a measure of self-government from Ottawa.

The agreement between Canada, Manitoba and the Sioux Valley Dakota will see the community freed from the Indian Act. The community will receive broad law-making powers in areas of importance to the First Nation.

This is reportedly the first such deal in Manitoba.

But, some advice for Sioux Valley is that this is just the first step in their path towards self-determination and ultimately, overall improvement.

Simply put, removing the "Indian" from the Indian Act doesn't always remove the Indian Act from the "Indian."

Self-government, in and of itself, is not actually the end goal.

The over arching goal should be good governance.

Different entities sign self-governments agreements because they provide a governing body with the power to make right decisions for the community. Self-governing communities, of course, can still make bad decisions.

In 2010, the Frontier Centre released a study looking at the impact of self-government on the Nisga'a Nation in northwestern B.C.

The Nisga'a ratified a self-government agreement with Canada in 2000. The treaty recognized broad jurisdiction for the Nisga'a and even made Nisga'a prevail over provincial and federal law in many instances.

The study found that while there was a new found sense of empowerment from the treaty and improvements in areas such as education and health care, many old Indian Act patterns still persisted. Family-based voting and complaints about nepotism and favouritism continued.

The study also revealed that economic progress remained an elusive goal.

Old habits die hard.

Many of the Nisga'a we interviewed felt that the community still had a long way to go towards breaking old patterns and building new effective institutions.

Self-government is essential because the First Nation needs to possess jurisdiction. The Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development, in its study of American tribes, found that jurisdiction was a critical component of good governance. The buck has to stop at some level.

There is an attitude that taking the Indian Act out of the equation will advance the First Nation.

Bruce Slusar, lawyer for Sioux Valley, said to media: "That legislation (the Indian Act) has not proven successful in terms of assisting First Nations, so this is an opportunity for Sioux Valley Dakota Nation to have the opportunity to make laws and control their own destiny."

But, the real progress will be in the community adopting good institutions and behaviours.

Many First Nations have experienced success while remaining in whole or in part under the Indian Act. There is much to be said about transformative leadership, cultivating relationships with businesses, and good institutions.

Like it or not, many First Nations have become accustomed to and entangled within the Indian Act system.

This is likely why the prime minister has not committed to wholesale repeal or even reform of the Indian Act. During the Crown-First Nations Gathering in Ottawa, he said, "After 136 years, that tree has deep roots. Blowing up the stump would just leave a big hole."

There is wisdom in a slow and cautious approach.

So, we ought to celebrate the signing of this agreement and wish the community best. However, we should not be under illusions that this is a silver bullet. If anything, it is a first step on the long road to improvement.