Unsettling Tales from Aboriginal Reserves

Author: Colin Craig 2012/12/04

Imagine receiving a death threat because you called your mayor’s office and asked how much he or she earned last year.

No really, take a minute right now and consider how you would react.

Would you move out of town? Would you worry about your kids and loved ones? Would you keep speaking out or cave in to the pressure?

Now imagine for a moment that you kept asking such reasonable questions and the threats kept coming. Not to mention repercussions like your mayor somehow cutting off your income, stopping your home from getting repaired and halting college funding for your kids.

Many readers will consider the scenario above absurd or reflect on a tale they might have read about a third-world dictatorship.

But in reality, it’s the type of unimaginable situation some people living on aboriginal reserves in Canada have to face. No, it’s not a local mayor treating them like that; it’s their own band chief and council.

Yes, this type of thing is happening a couple hours outside of Winnipeg, in a community not far from Vancouver and down the road from Quebec City. You get the picture, it’s occurring in our own backyards in many parts of Canada.

The threats and punishment mentioned above are just a few examples of stories shared recently at a meeting of grassroots band members in Ottawa.

The meeting was organized by the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, a non-profit taxpayers watchdog group. As we continued to speak out in favour of Bill C-27, a bill that will help combat these problems, we wanted to ensure the media had a chance to hear these types of stories directly from grassroots band members on the legislation.

For those that don’t have bills in Ottawa memorized, this is the legislation that would put chiefs and councillors’ salary information, as well as annual audit documents on the internet for every reserve in the country.

The bill was tabled by the federal government in response to a push by the Canadian Taxpayers Federation and grassroots band members for greater transparency on reserves. It will bring aboriginal politicians inline with all other politicians in the country; who already have to disclose their pay to the public.

As you can imagine, many chiefs have spoken out against the bill.

Unfortunately, grassroots band members had other stories of “punishment” for speaking out.

One lady from Manitoba described how a family member told her “you know, if you hadn’t have spoken out I wouldn’t have had problems getting assistance for my kid’s education.”

A lady from a reserve in British Columbia described how a band member, who had been investigating financial activities in her reserve community, mysteriously had her home burned down when she was away on a trip.

So how does this happen in a country such as Canada?

Well, the chief is king on many reserves. While many chiefs are very good at running their communities in a fair and open manner, many others have simply let the power go to their head. As the chief and council hold the purse strings, few band members ever want to be on the chief’s bad side.

Bill C-27 will especially help those living on reserves where threats are a way of life. After all, once more band financial information is posted on the federal government’s web site, band members will be able to access it anonymously. Such disclosure will also help the good chiefs out there who are working hard and aren’t earning vast sums for services.

Bill C-27 will not solve all the problems on reserves, but one thing is for certain. The status quo is anything but acceptable. We wouldn’t let our mayor or town council treat us that way. We shouldn’t allow any other politicians in Canada to treat any other Canadian that way either.



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