Under Their Thumb

atleoharperToday, we seen some well-deserved backlash against the Conservative government over further cuts to provincial territorial organizations and national political organizations.

But the reality is, this is not news.  It’s been something that many of us have been expecting.

Last year, the Government of Canada arbitrarily reduced core funding – one of the two areas funded by the Department of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development.  Today’s announcement was a reduction in project funding, the other area funded by the federal government.  A letter from the department states: “Project funding in 2013-14 and future years will be allocated only to projects that demonstrate clear and achievable outcomes and that are linked to departmental priorities…”

It’s really part and parcel of the ongoing fiscal assault on First Nations since the HarpCons were elected in 2006.  Now that Harper has his majority, it was just a matter of time that their budget bills whittle down the non-legislative contributions toward First Nations political organizations.

We can all raise our fists, rant and rave, even summon up a summer of sovereignty.  But the reality is, in this bizarro world of Indian politics, the government funds our political organizations.

This funding isn’t linked to a Treaty or Aboriginal rights.  This isn’t about cutting funding to an essential service.  Truth is, the government has all the right in the world to fund or not fund discretionary programs such as Aboriginal organizations.

The solution to this funding predicament is to get out from under the government’s thumb.  First Nations, PTOs and the national organizations need to become self-sufficient, and find new, alternative funding sources to fund our priorities and organizations.

First Nations need to build their economies, plain and simple.  This means developing a strong resource-based, business acumen.  First Nations governments need to develop partnerships and joint ventures and become a growing part of the resource-based economy.

We need to look at economics from a government perspective.  For example, developing new sources of revenue by beginning to tax resources and infrastructure running through our territories.  We need to look at leveraging our existing resources through various partnerships and investments.

First Nation governments need to look beyond the transfer payments agreements, and meager rations that are set before us.  He need to look towards high finance and play hard-core economics.

We need our own financiers and economists just as much as we need elected Chiefs and warriors.

Finally, I want to defend those that work at the Assembly of First Nations, PTOs and other similar organizations run by our Chiefs.

Having worked for Chiefs for most of my career, I can honestly say that they are not only out for themselves.  They aren’t not a corrupt, bunch of crooks trying to get rich off the government dime or at the expense of the poor.

Most Chiefs, and most officials that work for First Nations political organizations work hard and mean well.  They are always thinking of their communities first, and ways and means to better our communities.

If there is one thing that seen over the past few years of social media commentary, is our perpetual self-abuse directed at those officials we elect and organizations they work for.

Yes, it will be Idle No More and the grass roots that will rise up and pressure the Crown to make things right.  I’m more confident of this than ever.  But before the round dances subside and the barricades come down – First Nations will need someone to negotiate our appropriate place in Canadian society.  We will need our own forms of government to sit at the table with the next Prime Minister and make history.  Inevitably, we will need to put our trust in our elected leaders, financiers and economists.  We need to ensure the organizations they represent have adequate resources to do this work we ask of them.

It just can’t be done with government money, tied to government priorities.

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One Comment

  1. Matt McLeod says:

    Well said Bob.

    Partnerships between first nations communities and big industry is the only feasible alternative to government financing. The tax revenue from big mining projects and pipelines carving a path through aboriginal lands should go directly to those communities effected – not straight to the federal government and eventually to the communities after being diluted by political priorities.

    I’m no expert on the current relationship so maybe you could offer your thoughts, but it sounds like there needs to be concrete policy in place that gives industry tax incentives to operate on first nation lands, BUT also a requirement to negotiate with that community so they see appropriate financial benefits.

    Also many communities have, let’s call it a rocky relationship, with industry. Here in BC where I live, communities effected by pipeline expansion plans all over the province have said they flat out reject any plans to build anything on their traditional territory, no matter what kind of financial benefit they could potentially see.

    And what about those communities that aren’t lucky enough to be sitting on a copper mine or in the direct path of a bitumen pipeline? How would they cope if they severed ties with the fed gov’t?