OTTAWA — The Assembly of First Nations says federal politicians should abandon their “paternalistic” attempts to make reserves more fiscally accountable, and instead embrace bolder proposals to track aboriginal finances.
National Chief Shawn Atleo is meeting with other chiefs in Vancouver this week to discuss moving beyond the antiquated Indian Act and empowering bands to rule themselves within five years.
Atleo says a key part of that plan is improving transparency so that band members themselves know how the band’s money is being spent.
But he says a private member’s bill gaining momentum in the House of Commons — and has the backing of the Conservative party — is the wrong way to go about it.
The bill, called the First Nations Financial Transparency Act, passed second reading in the House of Commons last week, after a handful of Liberals joined the Tories in supporting it.
The legislation, sponsored by Conservative MP Kelly Block, would force band chiefs and councillors to publish how much they earn.
Atleo says he’d rather see the creation of a First Nations auditor general and ombudsman who would keep track of salaries as well as all of Ottawa’s spending on aboriginal affairs.
Atleo says band members need more transparency in how government money is spent, and how leaders are paid.
But he says the bill perpetuates the failures of the past by bolstering the power of the minister of Indian Affairs at the expense of the First Nations people themselves.
“First Nations are expected to deal with the consequences of decisions that they have no control over,” he said in a telephone interview from Vancouver.
“It’s still a deeply paternalistic type of approach that is being delivered, and that’s the pattern that I’m hoping we can break.”
Already, the chiefs have committed to making public all types of remuneration to their band members. And they have long handed that type of information over to the federal government.
Atleo would also like to establish a First Nations auditor general as well as an ombudsman, and develop a system of accountability that would track band leaders’ salaries as well as all of Ottawa’s spending on aboriginal affairs.
“The conversation about who is being paid what needs to be part of something that First Nations governments have to tackle. They’ve signalled a willingness to do that,” said Atleo.
The auditor general and ombudsman ideas were at the forefront of talks with Ottawa under former prime minister Paul Martin. But the Harper government has shown no interest in pursuing them, Atleo said.
“We want to keep this moving . . . . We need the government Crown partner to come to the table and say we will work with you.”