United Nations Lets Down People On Reserves

Commentary, Aboriginal Futures, Frontier Centre

Colin Craig, Canadian Taxpayers Federation

A man who lives on an aboriginal reserve in Quebec once described how he went out for milk one day, came home and saw a death threat scrawled on his driveway.

What did he do to provoke such a hostile act?

He told the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, a donation-based taxpayers watchdog organization, the threat was linked to his repeated questions to his band council about how public funds were spent in his community. The elite on his reserve didn’t like that and labeled him a “troublemaker.”

While stories of bullying and corruption on aboriginal reserves in Canada are fairly common, don’t expect the United Nations’ upcoming report on aboriginal affairs in our country to discuss such problems.

No, it seems like the UN is gearing up for issuing another report that simply calls for the tried and failed approach of throwing more money at the problem.

When the Canadian Taxpayers Federation heard the UN had sent its “rapporteur” to Canada to study our reserve system and “shame” our governments into doing something, we looked at his schedule and noticed an awful lot of meetings in large urban centres with chiefs, councilors and other politicians.

It was an easy bet that stories like the one from Quebec wouldn’t come up in meetings with chiefs from the old boys’ club, so we emailed the rapporteur’s office and offered to connect him with grassroots who could share such examples.

We thought the UN should know several grassroots aboriginal people from a few communities near Thunder Bay, Ontario had serious concerns about accountability problems on their reserves so they recently staged a 650km walk to Winnipeg to try and raise awareness about their concerns.

Among their beefs was a claim that the deceased were added or kept on one reserve’s membership list to inflate funding from Ottawa.

We thought the UN should hear from a lady on a reserve in Manitoba who has described in the past how her activities as a critic of the band council led to a relative not receiving funding support from the chief and council for post-secondary studies.

We emailed the rapporteur links to news stories like the one from the Glooscap reserve in Nova Scotia where the chief was caught making over $243,000 tax free – an amount that was far higher than the Prime Minister of Canada. Many band members were shocked to learn about the high pay when we helped expose that story in 2010.

Make no mistake, we’re not suggesting all reserves are suffering from corruption – there are some really good chiefs and councilors out there.

For instance, we encouraged the rapporteur to talk to Chief Jeanette Peterson from the Annapolis Valley First Nation in Nova Scotia. After ousting the previous high-paid chief (who was exposed through CTF efforts), Peterson called a public meeting and then left the room while her community decided her pay.

We would have been pleased to have pointed the rapporteur towards other good chiefs and councilors like her.

Sadly, we didn’t hear back from the UN’s rapporteur or his office. Other organizations that have raised concerns about transparency and accountability on reserves told us they didn’t hear from the UN either.

Based on the UN’s approach to its tour, and comments so far, we wouldn’t be surprised if their eventual report (expected next year) includes the same tired old recommendations.

If it does, the UN may just hurt some of the people they are trying to help the most.