Voluntary initiatives work for First Nations

Commentary, Aboriginal Futures, Joseph Quesnel

After more than 100 years, we now know that imposed solutions rarely work on First Nations.  It is time to try voluntary solutions because they empower people.  Surely we know that First Nations people need empowering.

The Idle No More movement was a response to the governments imposed solutions on Aboriginal people.

Historically, First Nations have resisted imposed solutions. Starting with the Indian Act, which sought to undermine traditional tribal governance, First Nations resisted being told what to do. But, successive governments have continued to impose rather than propose solutions for our First Nation people.

Here are a few of those impositions to refresh your memory.

The White Paper of 1969 was opposed universally because it sought to fundamentally reshape the relations between native communities and Canada without their consent.

First Nations opposed the First Nations Governance Act, a legislative change that would have altered band governance because it was perceived to be imposed.

Now this resistance is the First Nations reaction to the Federal Education Act. Bands oppose this legislation because it gives too much power to federal bureaucrats.

Of course, there are some good things in the act.

Certainly, many Aboriginal people and other Canadians agree that ensuring that fundamental justice is needed, such as matrimonial property rights and financial transparency.

The Federal government needs to change its ways.  Rather than trying harder and harder to impose things on First Nations, it needs to trying proposing and working with them.

There are, in fact, voluntary initiatives that work. It’s just that they are not known by bands, and the federal government needs to promote these initiatives.

The most obvious is the First Nations Land Management Act (FNLMA). Under the FNLMA, First Nations opt out of the land provisions imposed on them by the Indian Act.

Most importantly, the evidence shows that bands perform better under FNLMA than without it. FNLMA is about the only example where Ottawa has made headway with First Nations.

Section 83 of the Indian Act allows bands to voluntarily collect tax to pay for services.  This is something that Bands choose to do. Again, evidence from the National Aboriginal Economic Development Board shows that bands that collect tax perform better than those who don’t.

There are other voluntary initiatives that are largely unknown by Canadians. There are, for example, voluntary initiatives that focus on outside accreditation. The First Nations Financial Management Board (FNFMB). Bands that participate in FNFMB are able to obtain financing through the First Nations Finance Authority for badly-needed infrastructure at preferential rates.

There is also the ISO certification. Developed by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), this system ensures that bands have standardized and transparent management processes. By using such quality assurance systems, First Nations can demonstrate that they are credible and accountable to their own people and to other Canadians.

An excellent example is the community of Membertou, a Mi’kmaw First Nation located on Cape Breton. This community has successfully used its ISO certification to develop businesses and employment. The band now operates more than 10 businesses in gaming, fishing, entertainment, retail, food and beverage, and insurance. 

In the 1990s the band employed about 50 employees. Now it employs about 500 employees. Membertou currently generates almost 90 per cent of its revenue through its businesses.  This stands in contrast to most bands that are completely dependent on the federal government.

There are, of course, many other initiatives that bands and the Feds could explore for First Nations housing, electrical power, school bussing, and other services. 

The Federal government must see that it is better for it to promote voluntary initiatives rather than continue to impose solutions on First Nations that will ultimately be rejected by chiefs and band councils.

There are many more voluntary initiatives that could successfully work for First Nations. 

The Feds need to try proposing and not imposing solutions on First Nations.